By now you’ve probably picked up on a common thread woven through my messages to you. Whether the subject is diet, exercise or sex, I’ve urged you to relax and enjoy. Don’t hope for example, to lose 15 pounds in a week. Doing so can undermine your health and encourage weight rebound. Don’t launch into a do-or-die jogging program if you haven’t exercised in years. Start slowly—at a walk. Don’t get uptight over sexual concerns. Relax and enjoy. What’s the hurry?
Time urgency is a tremendous stress. The pressure of performing to the clock or the calendar creates tension, and can aggravate illness.
Stress is the body’s chemical, physical, emotional response to threats and challenges, crises and expectations. This adaptation of the body to danger is a wonderful survival mechanism: By pumping up your blood pressure, your heart rate, and your output of adrenalin, stress can save your life in an emergency situation – having to dodge out of the way of a speeding car, for example.
Stress can also make everyday living a physiologic melodrama, however. The body responds to the small frazzles and frustrations of everyday life in much the same way it responds to the threat of danger. When there’s not enough time in the day, when your sister falls ill, when you feel lonely or unappreciated, when you chastise yourself for having deviated from your diet, you may become distressed.
Stress causes the release of a whole cascade of stress hormones that can lead to inflammation. A host of physical symptoms can result from chronic low-grade stress – symptoms such as nervousness, irritability, tension headaches, constipation or diarrhea. Stress can cause or contribute to such illness as ulcers, heart disease, and even overweight. Some researchers postulate that all illness, in fact is aggravated by the chemical shenanigans of stress.
Obviously stress symptoms should not be ignored. They can have medical consequences if they occur regularly. If tension makes you feel unwell, makes you lose sleep, encourages overeating, or makes you turn to alcohol or tranquillizers, don’t ignore the symptoms. Don’t rely on a pill to solve the problems.
In our fast-paced world, many people have to be taught how to relax. Unwinding has become a skill.
Perspective is a first step toward acquiring the ability to relax. I find it helpful when I’m rushed or frazzled to stop a moment and look at the bigger picture. I literally stop whatever I’m doing, take a deep breath, and force myself to smile. This reminds me to stop taking myself so seriously. Often we lose perspective and get uptight over things that are inconsequential.
I also find it helpful to examine my self-expectations on occasion. Many of the small frustrations we experience are self-imposed.
Affirmations can help release tension. Relax, take a deep breath and repeat to yourself something positive and calming. I do this whenever my schedule is upended and I find myself on the run. I pause a moment, smile (that wipes away the grimace and unclenches the gritted teeth) and then repeat to myself several times the phrase, “I am calm, comfortable and serene.”Affirmations of this sort can have a very positive effect.
Another stress-buster is visualization. Imagine a beautiful spot on a beach or a clearing in the woods – a place where you have or possibly could feel completely at peace. I have such a place that I imagine in my mind’s eye: It’s a cove that I drive by every day. The water in the cove is clear blue; herons and roseate spoonbills move among the mangroves. At night, in the moonlight, the gently lapping water sparkles like gold dust. Just thinking about this spot instills me with a sense of peace. Whenever I drive past it I experience the same soft wave of relaxation. You may want to choose a real or imaginary spot that affects you in the same way. Or you can borrow my little parcel of Palm Beach paradise!
As you strive to take charge of your health with a healthier lifestyle – to look better, feel better, lose weight, get in shape, get your energy back, prevent illness, restore your health – whatever your goal, I hope you remember to enjoy the process as well as the goal. Relax, smile, and sniff the orange blossoms along the way. To your excellent health! Love, Dr Joan
Adapted from The Palm Beach Long-Life Diet by E Joan Barice, MD with Kathleen Jonah, 1985.
Information shared here is not intended as medical advice, and cannot substitute for professional medical advice and information. Information provided is general in nature and may be helpful to some people but not others, depending on their personal medical needs. Always consult with your personal physician before changing or undertaking a new exercise program or following advice designed for general audiences only. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay getting care because of something you have read here.