As parents and grandparents, we sometimes spend so much time taking care of everyone else that we forget that we need to take care of ourselves as well. Particularly young, working parents, may find it very difficult to think of ways to cope with all the stress involved with taking care of our families, working demanding jobs, having an active social life, and meeting endless other obligations. One thing that we, as parents and grandparents, need to do is set an example for our children. If we over do on every occasion, trying to live up to impossibly high standards for how to ‘do it right’ we model behavior that our own children will carry on. Living in San Francisco and the Bay Area, there is an endless number of things we seem to be called to do and be and be part of.
Recently, I talked with an old high school friend who made mention that she felt she wasn’t living up to the standards that everyone else was. My immediate reaction was to be shocked, for I thought I had given up trying to live up to others’ expectations years ago. Then I got to thinking of all the ways we try to live up to some external model of how to be a good parent, a good grandparent, a good mother, a good daughter, a good wife, a good whatever we choose to do or be….and then it hit me. We all have set impossibly high standards for ourselves, and we need to take better care of ourselves if for no other reason than we don’t want to impose on our children and grandchildren the idea that they too have to follow the crowd at the expense of their own health, happiness, and personal soul call.
Stress is the byproduct of the unrealistic expectations that we put on ourselves and others. Stress is normal, to a point. However too much stress is not healthy for anyone. What effect does stres have on our health, and what can we do to relieve it?
Stress and Our Health.
Lancet University College of London research showed the correlation between a stress-related job and an increased chance of having a heart attack 23% higher risk.
Journal, PLoS One shows the impact that job-related stress has on telomeres. Finnish scientists found that the higher the job stress the shorter the telomeres equating to increased rate of aging.
Smiling is an anecdote to stress. A true smile can lower your heart rate. University of Kansas, Sarah Pressman reported that smiling can be good for your heart health.
Even when thinking about a stressful event, our bodies are affected by stress. We become what we think. According to researchers at Columbia University Medical Center, people who think about stress are likely to have a higher risk for heart disease.
According to research done at the Pennsylvania State University, how you react to stress is just as important if not more so than the stress itself. The study showed that daily stressors like an argument with a spouse or deadlines and challenges at work, were apt to affect short-term health and long-term health risks depending upon how the stress was handled. The more emotionally upset one becomes, the greater the long-term health risk.
In another journal article, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, researchers reported that the more stressed out and anxious a person is about the daily stresses of life, the more likely they were to have chronic health problems (heart problems, arthritis). According to Dr. David Almeida, in addition to chronic health problems and risks, these people were “still grumpy and fuming” at the end of the day. Almeida described two types of people: Teflon and Velcro people. Teflon people let stressors slide right off them whereas Velcro people hang onto stress and it affects them over the long-term, in significant ways.
Ways to relieve stress:
Pets. Pets need our attention, and they provide us with another living being to take care of. We can be with a pet and be ourselves. Pets are not a replacement for human interaction, but they are a good way to come ot understand the basic needs of life. As we take care of pets we know to water, feed, walk, and clean up after them. It’s a good reminder that we need to do the same for ourselves. And pets generally love us unconditionally. Currently, I do not have a pet of my own, but I regularly house and pet sit for friends to keep in touch with my animal friends.
Laugh and Have Fun. Release some endorphins. When endorphins are released, your muscles relax. Find something to laugh about. A good belly laugh a day goes a long way to relieve stress. Call your children and grandchildren and get the latest jokes from them. Share yours with them, and tell funny stories to one another
Get Dirty. Get your hands in the dirt. Do some gardening, pot some plants, weed the garden, or create a meditation spot in your backyard. Gardening can lower our cortisol levels according to a study done in the Netherlands. Another study in Norway done with patients who suffered depression and bi-polar disorder, found that gardening for 6 hours a week showed that after 3 months half the patients showed significant improvement. Whether or not a study shows that gardening can lift your spirits, it can at the very least become a meditative experience that allows you to let go of stress and put your mind on something more basic and natural.
Take a Break. Reading a book, drinking a cup of tea or coffee, listening to music, or taking a walk can all help to lower stress level, lower heart rate, and relax muscles.
Call your Mom. Even if you no longer have a mother, talking to someone who is maternal can help relieve stress. For those of us who are believers, having a talk with Mom in spirit works too. If your relationship with your mother is not ideal, developing positive, nurturing relationships with older women can be a life saver. We all need friends of all ages, and those Reflecting Mirrors, as author Julia Cameron calls them, who can shine some light back on us when we are under pressure, sad, depressed, or ill. As we get older, and no longer have our moms, we come to treasure those friendships where we can just be ourselves, no matter what.
Eat Dark Chocolate. Not a whole box, but one or two pieces of dark chocolate, can lift your spirits. Eating 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate a day can decrease cortisol levels. The Proteome Journal announced the glad tidings to us all in 2009. Chocolate, in moderation, can boost your spirits.
Get it Out. Sometimes we try so hard not to complain or be negative, that we hold in a lot of feelings and thoughts. We all need to release whatever we are holding inside. Having one or two good friends that you can talk to when you need to unload a day’s worth of angst, helps. This is not to say that all your friends need or want to hear your daily buildup of frustrations. Being able to talk to someone in a safe environment where you feel free to say anything you need to without judgment, can be useful. Making certain you are within the boundaries of what is acceptable in your friendships, is also important when you choose to unload. Another way to get things out is to write them out in a journal or diary. If you are worried someone might read it, destroy the writing once you have finished. That can be cathartic as well.
Exercise. Yoga is a healing and ties the breath, body, mind, and emotions together. Take some time every day to exercise or take a yoga class. Spend a few minutes every morning and evening doing some yoga poses and breathing. Take a Pilates or Tai Kwon Do class, or go swimming. Biking, walking, skating, whatever you do that relaxes and refreshes you, do it
Take a Hike. Hiking allows you to breath in fresh air, take in the beauty of the environment, and to let go of needing to do anything.
Meditate. Meditation is an excellent way to develop a practice of stilling your body, mind, emotions, and breath. Focusing on deep breathing, quieting and focusing the mind, letting go of needing to be or do anything, and practicing being still and present in your own being, can be one of the best ways to relieve your stress.
Listen to relaxing music. Play some relaxing music, play your instrument, sing and dance around the kitchen or living room. Let music lift your spirits.
Get some Body Work. Get a massage, make an appointment for accupuncture, visit your chiropractor or therapist, or get a manicure and pedicure. Make an appointment to have your hair done, or take yourself out to lunch by the water. Do something special to take care of your health and happiness.