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Sometimes you have those really profound realizations. You know, the ones that strike you like a lightning bolt, right before you doze off to sleep? Well I had one of those the other night and it was life changing. Best of all, I still remember it. Even better, I am going to share it.

I’ve been learning a lot about how my body responds to stress and relaxation. A few weeks back I had an intense stress response reaction after I heard my three-year-old yelling outside. It sounded like he had lost a limb. I was certain it was a life or death situation. I was helpless and I was alone. I didn’t see him right away, but I continued following the screams. There was no injury or blood. It turns out he was vocalizing with the chickens in very inappropriate ways. Even though he was fine, it took me three to recover from the stress responses that went off in my body.

What has helped me understand a bit about this phenomenon are three things: 1) Ongoing emotional therapy 2) Ongoing yoga practices 2) Dr. Lissa Rankin’s book Mind Over Medicine.  It is not until the final chapters that I really understood the point of her work: stress inhibits physical healing, stress causes us to get sick. Relaxation helps us to heal.

Well, then you see. I got sick. I’ve been struggling with a peritonssilar abscess for almost two weeks. Is stress to blame? Uh… maybe.

Which leads me to my life changing realization. I’m an entrepreneur, right? I do the things I love, right? I’m a writer, an artist, a small scale producer. I provide professional services in areas of my expertise: sustainable agriculture, environmental education, community development. I manage an art gallery for a local art center. Sounds great and sometimes it is. BUT, I have this one problem you see. And actually, I’ve had it since college. I pursue the things I love, which inevitably leads to some kind of stress at some point: deadlines, conflicts, responsibilities, whatever. Well, what happens when you do the things you love, is it gets harder to turn to those things into a form of relaxation.

I used to go out bird watching and get completely overwhelmed by the course content I needed to develop for  a wildlife class I was teaching. Now I start planting my garden, and think about the summer months in which we will sell herbs at the Farmers Market and then I start thinking about the grant project I am working on in relationship to sustainable economic development and direct market options for vegetable crop producers. I go to work on some art, and I think about the work I need to do for the expansion of the gallery space by July 4th. Overwhelming.

Well, I realized in order to overcome the stress response and achieve a relaxation response from the things I love, I needed to first flip a switch in my brain. That’s what I did. I flipped a switch and did something I never did before. I visited brain juices benefited from the cute photos of primates.

And I laughed out-loud, hysterically while watching a 2 1/2 minute video of a dog slurping an orange. 

I’m not ashamed. It felt good. It was good for my heart and my soul. I was able to relax at night and be more productive and healthy as a result.

My lesson learned: laughter is good medicine. And there is always ALWAYS time for a little joy in life. 

(Trying to) Navigate Stress in New Ways

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(Trying to) Navigate Stress in New Ways

Stress and I have an unhealthy relationship. It’s kind of a co-dependent relationship. I tend to respond to stress with compulsive behaviors.

Yesterday I put my husband in the hospital and today he might have surgery. It’s only his tonsils… but still, I feel the familiar stress of any set of crisis and unknown outcomes.

Without working a 9-5 job, I am not entirely sure how to spend my time. In fact, I am almost certain that working on any of my projects would not be a healthy option right now. For me, work as an escape is a habit. A bad habit. Using work to escape from the stress of any current state of being is essentially the same as using a chemical substance. And of all the things in my mind, work, play, rest, sleep, spazz-out, be grateful, write, draw, do dishes, walk…the one thing I can confidently know NOT to do RIGHT NOW is to have a drink. So, it would make sense not to engage in any other addictive behaviors, right?

This is day three of being in a stress response mode. And I feel like I’ve done remarkably well up to this point. Prioritizing, eating well, meditating, sharing, sleeping, I even went to yoga last night. And yet it is like speaking a foreign language. It takes great effort and sometimes feels like I’m doing it all wrong.

I think the key here is to remember the choices we have. I don’t know anything more than I did 10 minutes ago in regards to my husband’s condition. However I choose to use this limbo time, it is up to me to make choices that nourish me, reduce stress, and enhance my sense of well-being. Because acting like I’m trying to fix the situation certainly doesn’t fix it.

Interesting… the things we can learn when we are mindful of the situation at hand.