Taking a Whole Life Approach to Decreasing Stress in Times of Crisis
By Afshan Tafler, Whole Life Coach
It is in times of crisis, when our whole life is being affected, that we are called upon to draw from deep within us what exists beneath the fear, uncertainty, helplessness, anger and frustration…and, that is COURAGE.
Courage to be with the intense emotions;
Courage to make the right choices for our health;
And, courage to connect to the bigger meaning of it all.
Unfortunately, being in a chronic state of stress hinders us from accessing the true strength to be resilient.
We know from science that stress is a major factor in illness and disease. To stay healthy, especially in times of extreme fear and stress, requires finding ways to alleviate chronic stress so it doesn’t impact you by creating ill health in your body.
Taking a whole life view to managing stress, we can look at how releasing stress involves an approach that incorporates all of you: Mind, Body and Soul.
Whole Life Approach to Health & Stress
My own journey of chronic illness (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Hypothyroidism, Fibromyalgia and then Lyme disease) involved a path to healing that required me to dig deep and change many aspects of my life that were contributing to the stressed state I was in. This included nutrition, changing my thoughts, processing my emotions and connecting to my authenticity and the bigger meaning of my suffering.
We know now that the mind-body connection is real, and a big factor in stress and illness. We cannot treat one without treating the other. To alleviate stress and move towards greater health also requires us to understand the bigger meaning of our struggles, and to grow and transform in the ways that serve our Soul’s purpose on this Earth. Moving from a state of chronic stress to a state of courage and confidence that you can handle the current challenges in front of you requires:
- Keeping your body healthy
- Keeping your mind healthy
- Connecting to your deeper self, your soul
How to Alleviate Stress in the Body (The Physical Self)
There is much information out there right now about boosting your immune system by sleeping well, eating healthy, exercising and taking immune boosting supplements like Vitamin C.
What many of us don’t connect with are the messages our body sends to us that indicate we are in a state of stress. For our bodies to be at optimal immune functioning, we need to be in a state of relaxation more than in a state of stress.
Our Automatic Stress Response
Our nervous system has an automatic threat detection scanning system that puts us into a state of either Fight, Flight or Freeze. In the current state of affairs, most of us are in a never-ending state of threat detection and lack of safety. We are cycling through fight, flight and even freeze (helplessness/despair) throughout our days.
To alleviate stress we must help our bodies to feel safe by understanding the body’s cues of stress and moving it into safety. Breath is one of the biggest indicators. Are you breathing shallow and fast into your chest (stressed breathing), or deep and slow into your belly (relaxed breathing)?
Other body stress symptoms are tight muscles, teeth grinding, headaches, stomach issues, and disturbed sleep patterns.
Help Your Body to Feel Safe
Hacking into the stress response of your nervous system by doing a type of breathing that stimulates the Vagus nerve (the calming nerve that innervates all of your organs and nervous system) can help your body to go into relaxation and safety.
It’s simple and can be practiced throughout the day to prevent stress overload. All you have to do is make sure your out-breath is longer than your in-breath (4 counts in, 6 counts out). Practice this breathing and notice how your body relaxes and thanks you for it.
How to Alleviate Stress in the Mind (The Emotional Self)
Our mind is comprised of both our mental and emotional self. How we see the current world circumstances depends on our thoughts, emotions, and beliefs, which can put us into a state of stress or relaxation. Oftentimes, these thoughts and emotions can be very automatic bubbling up from our subconscious awareness.
The key to alleviating mind stress and becoming more resilient to handle life’s challenges, is to:
- Be with and process your emotions, and
- Challenge your limiting thoughts and beliefs and choose better feeling thoughts
How to Be with Your Emotions
It’s important to not push down intense emotions such as fear, helplessness, sadness, and anger as they get trapped in your body creating a chronic stress response. Being with your painful emotions requires courage to know that releasing them from your body will help you in the long run to be more resilient and healthy.
The practice I find most helpful is self-acceptance and self-compassion. Accepting ALL of your emotions can alleviate stress in the body immensely. Simply put your hand on your heart and name the emotion you are feeling. Research shows that when we name an emotion, our body relaxes.
Next, bring love and compassion to your experience by saying “This is hard for me, I am suffering right now, and I am not alone.” As you do this, you are activating the self-care network in your brain and allowing your emotions to have a safe moment to be processed and released.
How to Help Your Thoughts and Beliefs
What we want to stay away from are catastrophic thoughts that lead us down the rabbit hole to a place of despair and extreme helplessness. The challenge is many of these thoughts are automatic and operating under the radar of our conscious awareness.
Thoughts and beliefs like “I am not safe”, “the world is not safe”, or “I am not strong enough to handle this stress” are being triggered by the current pandemic.
The key is to bring these ‘under the radar’ thoughts into full conscious awareness, so that we are now in a place of choice to believe that limiting thought, or decide that it is not serving our greatest health, and let it go.
Try to take some time everyday to get quiet and notice the thoughts that are coming up surrounding this pandemic. What are you thinking about this pandemic? What are you most fearing? Accept the thought. When we accept what is, our body relaxes, and what we resist, persists. Now ask yourself: How is this thought serving me right now? (Very likely, it isn’t!) What is a better feeling thought that I could choose instead?
The key is to choose the next better feeling thought, vs. an unrealistic thought that you will never believe, like “life is great!” A thought like “this may never end!” can be replaced with “this may take some time, but this too shall pass.”
The great thing is that no matter how much we may not have control over our freedom to go out and do whatever we want right now, we do have the freedom of choice to choose thoughts that are aligned with our best health. Notice, as you shift to better feeling thoughts, how your body and mind move into relaxation.
How to Alleviate Stress From a Soul Perspective (The Connected Self)
Connecting with our soul allows us to form a deeper connection with ourselves, others, and the bigger meaning of challenging life circumstances.
Our souls look at all challenge and suffering as an opportunity to learn, grow and transform in a way that brings us more courage, compassion, connection, resiliency and inner peace.
As you connect to the bigger meaning of this pandemic for YOU, what is this experience calling upon in you to learn? Is it learning how to be ok with uncertainty and lack of control? Or, perhaps you are gaining a new understanding of what you really value in life? Or is it a greater knowing of your ability to simplify and let go of what’s not serving you? When we connect to the greater meaning of our suffering, and choose to see it as a growth opportunity, then we are turning helplessness into courage and resiliency.
In addition, we are not meant to suffer or experience growth alone. We do our best growth through relationships, as human beings are wired to be social creatures and connect with others. So, although you have to practice physical distancing, it is imperative to your overall health to stay connected to others. Research shows the positive effects of connection on stress in the body.
Acquiring True Resilience & Your Greatest Health
No matter how challenging life circumstances are right now, we are all being called upon to stretch, grow, and pivot from a fear mindset to one of growth and transformation.
To alleviate stress and feel better about your current circumstances, taking a whole life approach can deeply help you to move from stress, fear, and lack of control to confidence and courage to handle life’s challenges in a way that allows you to remain in control, regardless of what is happening around you.