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  • Dr. Marsha-Gail Davis

The Health Download with Dr. D: Chill

Wagwaan, beautiful people!

(Wassup/What’s up/What’s going on? in Jamaican patois)

Let me tell you why the CHILL measure is beyond ILL! #BARS.

Side note: I’m using “ILL” even though “ILL” has been out of commision in the vernacular to describe “cool,” “awesome” and “amazing” for a while now. What we currently have is “dope” or “lit” or “gucci” or even “sick” and more but not one of them rhymed, so I had to think of something that would… you get me! Just trying to keep my rhymes sharp :)

Out of all the 6 measures that become the building blocks of your health, the CHILL measure is one that has the capacity to shift your entire life experience because it can change the way you experience your life due to the powerful impact it has on how you perceive life. As my dear mommy always told me, “Perspective is everything!” And in the case of how we sense the environment AROUND us and INSIDE of use, it truly does.

So the CHILL measure is really dealing with how we manage stress. Stress management is one of the many ways that we can literally take control of how we perceive the world and thus have control over our body’s responses and how we experience life. I liken it to when Neo in the Matrix fully realized the power he had to shape his reality. And what’s more awesome than having Neo-like power over your body and your mind. So let me break it down into 4 simple questions that I will answer for you today!

How have we typically viewed stress?

In our society and culture, we have typically viewed stress as mainly a negative thing.

At school: “I’m so stressed out about this exam.”

At work: “I’m so stressed about this project deadline.”

With relationships: “This and that person is stressing me out.”

When stress is in the mix, you want to get out. But did you know that stress is actually NEUTRAL. Stress is simply a response to any demand on the body. It has a mental and physical component. For the mental, you have the perception of stress and the mental response to it. For the physical, you have the physical impact of stress in the form of pressure or damage to the body and the physical response in the body to it. These can all be mixed and matched. All of which leads to a coordinated bodily response that results in hormonal and physiological changes. This includes an increased heart rate, more rapid breathing, blood being diverted to our muscles instead of organs and energy in the form glucose being made available so that we are ready to go!

What do we know about stress?

It is important to note that our bodies were actually designed to respond to stress. We call this the stress response or the flight, fight or freeze response where we can respond by taking flight or by putting up a fight or potentially freezing in place and not knowing exactly how to respond to the stress.

You may be wondering: ”Well, if stress is expected and the stress response is normal, how does it lead to so many bad things like anxiety and even heart disease?”

Well let’s review two terms: eustress and distress. Essentially, “good” stress and “bad” stress. This eustress or good stress describes a state of stress that increases our performance, like studying well for a test and being prepared to ace it. Distress or bad stress, on the other hand, describes a state of stress that leads to dysfunction in our bodies. Typically, stress that persists continuously overtime without letting up will become distress like chronic anxiety, for example, that can become so severe it interferes with your ability to live your life. So the key point is that the stress response is an expected response but can result in either eustress or distress.

Why is important that we learn how to manage stress:

It is really important that we learn ways to manage our stress effectively because chronic unmanaged stress can manifest powerfully in our minds and bodies. We can describe the way it can affect us in FOUR Ms.

Our mood

Our mental capacity

Our muscles

Our maladaptive behaviors or behaviors that don’t serve us in the long run

So from an emotional standpoint, stress can present as anger, depression, anxiety and negative thinking.

From a mental standpoint, stress can present as being unable to concentrate, a poor memory or indecisiveness.

From a physical standpoint, stress can present as headaches, muscle pain, stomach issues, weight gain and sleep issues.

From a behavioral standpoint, stress can present as stress eating or the opposite, a lack of appetite, withdrawal from others, use of substances or explosive reactions.

This unmanaged stress that persists over time mainly impacts several systems in the body including the cardiovascular system, the endocrine system, the muscular system, the nervous system, the immune system and the digestive system and likely more! In addition, chronic stress can lead us into behaviors that hurt us in the long run such as stress eating, particularly high sugar, high fat and high salt foods or lack of physical activity. The combination of the two can result in a common syndrome we in the medical community know as metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome consists of 5 criteria:

  • Increased Blood Pressure

  • High Triglycerides (a form of fat in the body)

  • A large waistline

  • Low levels of good cholesterol

  • Elevated fasting blood sugar

Metabolic syndrome is particularly important because it can really push you toward Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, the number one killer of Americans and a common killer of our global brothers and sisters.

How can we manage stress?

So what we have come to understand clearly is that there is a direct mind and body connection. When we encounter a situation, the mind perceives this stimuli as stress. Then, like an ON switch the stress response is turned on. BAM! Which leads to a domino effect of physical changes in our bodies and once the stress is removed, we return back to normal. As we have already learned from our discussion thus far, the impact of stress on our bodies is very real and can be damaging overtime if it persists when the stress is removed or our response isn’t turned off. So it becomes even more important to learn how to manage stress to prevent the downstream effects on our mind and bodies and preserve our health.

So here are 8 keys that can help us put STRESS to REST.

1. First, MOVEMENT: It is in ALL CAPS because it is one of the most potent ways to manage stress effectively. The effects of exercise on our mood rival and may even surpass those of antidepressants and anxiety medications and most importantly, IT’S FREE! Movement is an actual medicine. I like this quote on exercise by Dr. Robert Butler, the former director of the National Institute of Aging, because it sums it up the best.

“If exercise could be packed into a pill, it would be the single most widely prescribed and beneficial medicine in the nation.”

2. Mindfulness: Then we have mindfulness techniques like deep breathing, yoga, stretching, meditation and prayer which are all techniques that bring us to the present moment. Focusing on the NOW is so key to bringing our attention to what we can immediately control versus what we cannot.

3. Then we have journaling: A really incredible way to empty your mind and manage our thoughts. Mama Oprah swears by this and I would say she is doing pretty great! There gotta be something about this, right?

4. Messages of affirmation and encouragement to yourself: My mother always tells me you don’t wait for anyone to encourage or affirm you. You encourage and affirm yourself. You build yourself up. You tell yourself you are doing a good job or that you are capable. This is an element of positive psychology to focus on positive and encouraging qualities about yourself.

5. Mind makeover: When we are stressed we can get into very distorted thinking like catastrophizing or focusing on all the bad or having black or white thinking. These thought patterns are directly linked to anxiety and depression. We can re-engineer our thoughts by first noticing them and paying attention to what we say to ourselves, especially negative self-talk, then checking them with evidence to focus on what is really true and not just a thought and we can de-escalate stress when we begin to think of the worst scenario by thinking of other possible and realistic scenarios that could also happen instead of just one worse scenario.

6. Magnifying thankfulness: Another word for that is practicing gratitude. Studies show incredible benefits to practicing gratitude on a daily basis. Practicing gratitude has the ability to change our perspective from one of deficit to one of benefit.

8. Get out in nature: I saw a quote on @seedsofasoul’s IG stories that said:

Nature is really out here rooting for our good health and our thriving!

8. Lastly, music: One of my favorite ways to manage stress, has a powerful effect on us as humans and we can use it to our advantage. One idea comes from the Mindful Music Exercise Sheet provided in the Big Picture Living Teacher/Advisor guide that recommends creating a playlist of all your favorite songs that create a feeling of JOY! I play this playlist whenever I’m feeling more down than I would like and it helps to shift my mood to a more positive one.

That’s all I have for you today, brilliant Big Picture Living stars! See you at the next Blog post!

Peace and Love

Dr. D

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