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Religion and Stress

            Obviously, as a Christian life coach I bring some bias to the table and I will be up front about that, as my own personal faith has helped me through some very difficult and stressful times in my life. I wanted to share some sources that are from more neutral sources. These studies below represent ‘spirituality’ and ‘religion’ and not only Christianity.

          According to more than one study, “Religious people have  a thicker section of brain tissue in cortex which  helps prevents depression.  According to another group of studies, religious people take fewer sick days,  are less anxious and have a greater sense of purpose and mission in their work. Prayer and meditation also have made their ways into recent studies. Doing these two activities can help relieve stress.

Think about the bigger picture.

              Part of this, no matter what a person’s take on religion or spirituality is, is about finding identity. Once a person knows who they are and what they are all about, they are better able to manage the difficulties and stress in life. Having a foundational  starting point of morality, community and theology can be a wonderful place to learn about yourself, your purpose in life, learn about humanity and God. Thus religion can be a huge benefit in life by simply helping a person discover who they are and what this world is all about.

Image

Focus on breathing

Breathing

Breathing in oxygen is an essential habit for human living. We need O2 for survival and basic organ functioning. Oxygen enters through our lungs but does not stay in our lungs.  It is transferred to our blood stream where the heart then pumps the freshly oxygenated blood to the rest of our body. With this fresh oxygen, all of our organs function healthier, including our brain.

Breathing and Stress Management

The number of scientific benefits  of proper breathing is countless. Many of these benefits play a part in lowering stress to the human body. Let’s first describe how it feels when we are stressed. Adrenaline raises our heart rate and we, without thinking about it, begin to take rapid and quick shallow breaths of air.

Fortunately, our bodies have this built-in stress-reliever, lungs. We can learn to manage our breathing, even during stressful occasions. When we can learn to slow breathing down by taking deep, long breaths of oxygen,  we encourage our nervous system and body to relax, which in-turn brings about a range of health benefits. The very basic ones are lowering heart rate and bringing oxygen equally to all parts of our body, helping our brain to focus.

Deep or Belly Breathing

Even if you are not into yoga, belly breathing is for you. And it is simple.  First get comfortable in a chair or bed, you can do this standing too. Though, in any case, keep your back straight. We are going to simply breath, but really slowly and only focusing on this exercise for a few minutes.

As you inhale slowly (through your nose) count to 5 or 6 in your head while taking in air. See if you can make it to 7 or beyond! As this is happening your entire belly should stick out a bit more than usual, because you are not just using your diaphragm, but your entire belly!  Next as you exhale (through your mouth), you need to also go really slow. Also see if you can count to the same number as oxygen leaves your body. Do this at least three times and you will begin to see results immediately. In future posts, I may refer to this as deep or belly breathing.  There are other exercises that build upon this to also reduce stress!

Top 10 Top 10s

10 Ways To Make Change Less Scary and More Possible Found on dumblittleman.com

Top 10 Reasons to Exercise Regularly (Besides Losing Weight) Found on lifehacker.com

10 Remarkable Ways Meditation Helps Your Mind Found on spring.org.uk

10 wise choices to skyrocket your happiness Found on thechangeblog.com

10 Magical Effects Music Has On the Mind Found on spring.org.uk

10 tens you can do to become happier, scientifically proven Found on lifehacker.com

10 Ways to reduce stress at work  Found on dumblittleman.com

10 Ways To Be Happier at Work Found on spring.org.uk

Sleep Deprivation: The 10 Most Profound Psychological Effects Found on spring.org.uk

10 one-minute time hacks that will make you more productive Found on lifehack.org

Bonus:

10 Ways Journaling Can Improve Your Life Found on lifehack.org

Top 10 Ways to Trick Your Brain Into Doing What You Want  Found on lifehacker.com

10 Uncommon, Alternative Relaxation Techniques to Reduce Stress by Alex Dolin  Found on noomii.com

Guided imagery

The past few weeks, I have been offering mindfulness and relaxation techniques.
Today is no different, this time, I want to offer a guided imagery. This type of activity helps us to slow down and learn to relax.  This is a little more challenging to attempt online in a blog but bear with me.

As with before, begin by getting as comfortable as possible…take a few deep breathes to get relaxed. After reading each statement, close your eyes and try to picture the situation in your mind and read this script slowly, as you follow in on each statement:
Imagine yourself on a tropical island. You can return home any time you wish, but you can stay and enjoy the serenity of the island as long as you care to.
You begin your journey by walking on a beautiful stretch of white sand beach. No one else is in sight. The beach is all yours. The sun is warm on your face…notice a gentle refreshing breeze coming off the water. Listen to the waves flow rhythmically onto the sand. You hear seagulls calling over the powerful ocean. Their voices sound distant compared to the roar of the surf.
You lie in the warm sand to enjoy the peacefulness of this place. The sand is warm and soothing to your body. You close your eyes to the pleasant sun overhead and relax for a while in the comfort of this warmth…as you inhale deeply, you enjoy the fresh smell of the ocean…
Once you feel rested, you notice a grove of palm trees you have never seen before. You start walking toward them…as you get close, you can hear the large palm leaves rustling in the breeze overhead…you find a path entering the grove and follow it…it is much cooler and very refreshing to be in the shade of these trees. As you continue, your path leads you into a tall, dense thicket of tropical plants…it is impossible to see where the path is leading, but you are curious about what lies ahead and also strangely hopeful about what you will find…
After a while, you hear rushing water and see daylight up ahead. You emerge from the thicket and step into a clearing. From a cliff high above, a silver ribbon of waterfall cascades into a pool of water at your feet. The sunlight reflecting off the pool dazzles your eyes…You climb up on a rock at the edge of the pool…and look down into the clear water. The water is the color of sapphires and so deep that you cannot see the bottom.
You look up at the waterfall and notice vividly colored flowers growing out of the rocks along the cliff—blue flowers, lavender ones, red and yellow—all offset by the lush green ferns and moss-covered rocks. As you begin walking toward the waterfall, you come upon a glade of trees covered in orchids. You have never seen so many of the beautiful flowers together. They hang from the trees, forming an enclosure with soft, fragrant walls…now you see things moving among the flowers—crimson and yellow butterflies flitting busily from place to place. You sit down in a sunny spot in the middle of the orchids and butterflies, amazed at the peace and beauty that you alone have discovered…
The sun is warm on your back, and you notice that the sunlight seems to energize the iridescent butterflies as they flutter in and out of it. You, too, begin to feel a sense of renewed energy…and a renewed sense that if you look hard enough, you can find peacefulness and beauty in the world…after today’s journey, you also feel a little more adventurous, more willing to take a path you have not been on before…and less afraid of what lies ahead.

It is now time to return. You can bring the experience of peacefulness and beauty of this tropical paradise with you. Any time you desire, you can close your eyes, breathe deeply, and return to this place.
How was this moment? Was it peaceful and relaxing? Is your mind at ease? There are many similar guided imageries, like this one online. But I also recommend talking to a counselor or pastor, as these professionals are often trained in more specific types of guided imageries. There are Christian based ones and others focused on healing pain/traumatic experiences. It is also helpful to meet a professional, as they have experience at reading these scripts slowly and helping you process after the script is completed.
So now, take with you the most pleasant and peaceful thoughts. For some people it will be laying on the beach and listening to the waves for others it will be sitting on the rock and looking at the wonderful waterfall. Each of us are different and enjoy different hobbies and aesthetics. So when stress or negative things happen to you this week, think upon the imagery that gives you peace. If you have some free time and want to re-read this entire script, please do so or as suggested earlier, find other imageries that are pleasant to you.

Deep breathing and muscle relaxation

Last week, I offered a simple exercise to help you begin thinking about being mindful. 
I challenged you to be fully present in the here-and-now both at work and at home. This exercise helps people to de-stress and be more productive and pleasant to be around bot hat work and at home. 
Today I want to offer some more mindfulness exercises. 
 The first is called deep breathing or belly breathing. 
 First get comfortable. Second take a lot deep breathe in, count to 5 or 6 in your head as the oxygen fills not just your lungs but your entire chest/stomach area should stick out. Next just as with the in, the out should take at least 5 or 6 seconds and your whole belly will again move in as the oxygen is released from your body. Do this 3 to 6 times consecutively. Scientifically this is proven to lower blood pressure, get more oxygen in the brain, improve thinking and fight anxiety. Try this!
With more oxygen flowing through your body, you may begin to feel a little sleepy! That is okay, once you get moving again, you will be energized and more productive and de-stressed.
If you like that, you will also really enjoy this next technique called progressive relaxation. Several clients comment on how useful this is!
First, while continuing the mindful belly breathing, get comfortable in your chair. You can do this in your bed or on a coach as well! Close your eyes and imagine that you are on a cloud, there is nothing else to think about or any worries. Focus on your feet. Tense up your feet and hold the tension for five seconds. Count with me: “1,2,3,4,5.” Now release. Your feet are heavy and tired. Relax. Now focus all your thoughts on your legs. Tense up your leg muscles 1,2,3,4,5, now release! Your legs are heavy. You are on a cloud. There are no worries. You are feeling tired. Now focus on your thighs. (Do the same thing with thighs then again with chest, arms, shoulders, neck  and then head/face).  
Many clients use this technique just before going to bed. This helps them to stop and relax and fall asleep instead of worrying about everything and anything else. This is mindfulness for the body. 
Next week I will offer even another technique that is useful in mindfulness. 

Where you are, you are

Often times we hold images in our minds from our harshest critic. 
We can be kind to others. We are shepherds and we are caretakers to others.
Although we are awfully hard on our own self. 
In reality both sides are battling it out inside of our heads. Imagine the old cartoons, where there is a devil (or a critic) on our left shoulder and an angel, (the caretaker) on our right shoulder. Both are whispering in our ears, what we need to hear. I challenge you to take five minutes to think through and write down what each voice has been telling you. If you are being honest with yourself, you will hear your own inner-critic first and then notice your strengths, second.
It is natural for our minds to be so focused on the negative first. Although, we can learn to control our thinking. The first step is practicing being mindful. Try being here-and-now. Do not focus on what you have to get done in two hours or later tonight. Be present with yourself, right here and right now. First this starts with breathing. 
Keep your eyes open but just focus on your senses rather than your thoughts. Notice the environment and what you are feeling, sensing, breathing, seeing around you ….
What are you seeing? Look only at one thing at a time. If you are thinking about what you are thinking and interpreting, you are no longer being mindful. Attempt to perceive without judgments, interpretations, evaluations or too much  input from the brain. You should have a running commentary of what you are experiencing right now.
 This exercise was meant to help us become more alert and aware of our surroundings. Mindfulness is “thinking about thinking.” We do have some control over our thinking.  We call this being “mindful.” Being mindful can help us de-stress and relax. Doing this meditation will help you be more present in the here and no, not distracted by thoughts and judgments. At work, be fully attentive and present at work. But then at home, be fully present with your family, instead of focusing on your thoughts and worries of work.
Next week, I will offer some more techniques to help you de-stress and be even more mindful.

Letting go of what you can’t control

Last week, I looked at the Serenity prayer and focused with an example on some things we can control when stressors come. Today, I want to help by giving tips for the flipside, what about the things we cannot control?

Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

In this prayer, there is an element of faith, of a God . There is an element of change and an element of acceptance. Some things we cannot change, while other things we can. So regarding the things that we cannot change, what are we left to do?

Being able to accept things that we cannot change does involve faith. In faith circles, the term is to “let go” of things, of stress and worry for example. But this idea of “letting go” is a difficult thing to define. Especially for people who do not believe in God, letting go is still not an easy task. The definition means to “giving permission or opportunity.” In the sense of how it is used to “let go” of worry, is really like “letting go” if a girlfriend after a break-up. It is giving permission to be free. So when we talk about accepting things that we cannot change, we are able to let them go from our worrying minds. Our minds can be free of these worries!

One last thing  that is really helpful when those fleeting thoughts do come back to us is the use of relaxation techniques. Many of my clients find this simple muscle relaxation technique to be
extremely effective, especially before going to bed:

Begin by finding a comfortable position sitting, standing, or lying down. First focus on breathing. Breathe in forcefully and deeply, and hold this breath. You should be able to count to 5 or even 6 (in your head) as the oxygen enters and and then again as it exits. Let all the air go out slowly, with
it release all the tension. You should see your chest expand and feel it collapse. After about five deep, long breathes we focus on each individual muscle groups but we want to continue this breathing pattern through-out the exercise.

Start with the muscles on your two feet. Tighten all the muscles of your feet. Count to five while holding this tension. Do a final squeeze! Then relax. Let all the tension go. Feel the muscles in your feet go limp, loose, and relaxed. Your feet are not heavy. Notice how relaxed the muscles feel now. Feel the difference between tension and relaxation. Enjoy the pleasant feeling of relaxation in your feet.

I have my clients do their feet first then move up the body, all the way to their head/face. We follow the same basic instructions just instead of “feet,” I say “legs” or “arms.” Throughout the exercise, I stop and remind the client to continue to focus again on their breathing. They need to have slow, even, regular breaths.

This is a simple trick but it really does work and focusing on breathing is scientifically proven to lower heart-rate. sometimes I add things to this technique if the client or I am feeling tired of this same technique. A simple addition is to add another relaxed meditation to it. I like to tell the
clients that they are on a cloud and explain how everything is soft, peaceful, solace and comfortable. There are many similar setting and scenarios that can enable relaxation.