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How to Exorcise the Stress Demons

Posted Jan 07 2011 12:59am

Why do we resist feeling good?  Why do we have a cultural addiction to stress, pressure, sleep deprivation, poor digestion and complete disconnection from our bodies?

I’ve asked this many times but was brought face to face with the western world’s obsession with chaos this week when my stress levels were over the top.  A perfect storm of work, holidays and over stimulation combined to cause an unhealthy level of anxiety; by Sunday, I was freaking out.

I suppose I should back up a bit and let you know that I’m prone to anxiety and worry.  The skills that make me so good at helping others – my intuition, keen powers of observation and perception of emotional climates – also make me Highly Sensitive, meaning that if I don’t take care of myself, I’m prone to picking up on the stresses of others.

Over time, all this accumulated stress leads to panic, worry and an impending sense of doom.  Not fun.

So, there I was all weekend trying to get my anxiety “under control.”  Now, I’m not stupid.  I know that exercise is the #1 non-pharmaceutical treatment for generalized anxiety disorder.  And I know how to exercise.

Not only do I know how to craft a high-powered workout that will pump all the negative emotion out of my body, I also had complete access to a gym, a yoga studio and the great outdoors at no additional cost to me.

I had absolutely no excuse to NOT get my butt in gear.  Zip.  Zilch.  Zero.

But you know what?  I didn’t want to.  I was worried that if I went to the gym and got my arms and legs moving, I’d lose all this anxiety.  I wanted to hold onto it and get it under control first!  Yes, I realize this is totally backwards, but I’m not the only one who feels this way…

Once, when I attended a personal growth workshop, the instructor asked us to walk in the woods for thirty minutes and then come back to the classroom.  After the exercise, everyone regrouped with renewed calm, in a state of relaxation.

The instructor pointed out, “If you ever feel out of balance, all you need is 30 minutes in nature to reconnect.”  She paused, looked around the room and added, “It’s okay to feel better, you guys!”  I guess we looked a little unsure!

This weekend, it took me THREE DAYS to get my body out of its funk and onto a yoga mat, and when I left the yoga studio, I felt like a new woman.  90 minutes…that’s all it took to transmute stress energy into love, inspiration and motivation.

Western society venerates the yes-man, working 80 hours a week, sleeping four hours a night and surviving on vending machine fare.  In this world, pushing yourself to the max in this way makes you a warrior.  Feeling calm, centered and at peace is perceived as weak or not working hard enough.

We cling to our stress demons, wrestling our shadows in hopes of finally conquering the worry and fear, emerging on the other side into the light.  It’s the classic hero’s journey, but I’ve got to tell you, there’s no killing tiger.

The only way to exorcise the stress demon is to, well, exercise it!  There’s never a good time to start living more healthfully, just like it’s always inconvenient to have a baby.  But once the baby arrives, you wonder how you ever lived without her.

Exercise is no different.  You know the benefits for your body – decreased fat, increased muscle mass, a healthier heart, balanced hormones, etc. – but if those don’t motivate you, consider the mental and emotional rewards: relief from depression, fear, anxiety and stress as well as increased self love, self acceptance, productivity and happiness.

So, here’s what you need to do…DEDICATE yourself to a healthy body, mind and heart.  Get out your calendar right now and block out periods of time during which you commit to exercising.  Consider it a prescription.  You wouldn’t skip your meds just because you don’t feel like popping a pill today, would you?  Don’t skip your exercise, either!  Get a move on!

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