(disclaimer: the beginning may sound like a rant- it isn’t. There is a point to all written)
When my doctor told me I needed to change my lifestyle to improve my heath I was grateful as I fully expected him to write out a prescription for some statin or other to lower my cholesterol levels. Maybe because it wasn’t terribly high yet, or maybe because he preferred more natural methods first. Which ever the reason, I walked out of that office fully determined to learn more about the lifestyle he mentioned and get to work in making changes.
Changes aren’t easy for a creature of habit.
I am a person who takes the same route every where I go. I know that route, I know the dips and turns and possible problems. I know where the signals and train tracks are and when the trains usually run. I know where the deer hang out. I am the person who tries to park in the same spot every time or when shopping as close to that place as possible. I can remember where I’m parked that way. I’m the person who hikes the same trails supposedly so that others would know where I am should I not show up when they believe I should. I buy the same foods, I visit the same web sites, you get the idea, such a horrible creature of sameness. Any deviation from that sameness created havoc in my mind and day.
Changes are exactly what he was prescribing.
Changes, or the lack of changes is a mindset that can be…changed.
One of the problems with being a creature of habit is the stress levels it produces.
I mentioned that I park in the same place as often as possible. When where I work moved to its current location, I was among the first that actually worked in the manufacturing process. There had been many others already in there rebuilding and remodeling an abused building but as far as the actual doing what we do, that was me and my crew. I picked out the place I wanted to park and that has been “my” spot for many years. At first parking there every time was a given, we were still small with only one shift, as that changed, so did the battle for my spot. On the days that I would get to work and have to park somewhere else, my day was ruined- truly and completely ruined. My mind replayed the litany over and over about how that was my place how dare they take my place? My stress levels over something silly was out the roof. It only got worse as any little normally ignorable incident would get blown out of proportion.
Lowering stress levels was part of this lifestyle. Is, a part of this lifestyle.
Grocery shopping is not on the top of my list as fun things to occupy my time. Trying to find foods at an affordable price that is healthy and tastes good is trying at best, nearly impossible in part. On top of that parts of the changes are in parts of the diet. How many times have you heard the instructions and recommendations to cut out the processed sugars from your diet? Yes, that is part of it, the sugar had to go. So here I am a creature of habit that is also a severe junk food junkie who has to make changes and still lower stress levels. In a grocery store where prices are only going up, I have limited funds to spend, I get behind people who want to block aisles to chat and then I get behind people with carts piled high with the really good foods and have food stamps while I’m counting pennies and have hamburger. Yes, that stress level factor hits over drive.
And then, there is my husband who drives a truck and has his own full set of problems. Those where he calls me often to rant. We all need someone who will listen when we need to vent. Even when there is nothing the listener can do about the problems.
While all of the above may sound more like a rant that anything else. I am leading up to a point.
Change is not impossible. No matter how set one is in their ways, no matter how deep of a rut you have dug, you can make changes and lower stress levels. I am finding that out on a day by day basis.
Life is short, don’t sweat the small stuff. Have you heard that one before? Most likely you have, but you know what? Its true. What constitutes small stuff? Parking spaces, trains, grocery shopping, husbands who listen to talk radio and become alarmed at every scenario they mention. I’m learning that when I can’t park where I usually do because someone has beat me to that spot, when it comes time to go home, I can usually get out of the parking lot much easier. Simply get in and drive away as opposed to that corner spot that is prone to be blocked in. I refuse to carry a bad attitude in the building. I toss it in the backseat and leave it there to melt away in the southern sunshine. Small annoyances at work, I mentally toss the bad mood in the garbage and handle the situation with more patience and peace. Train delays are a way to find something good on the radio, or a favorite cd to play. Grocery shopping is a challenge as the amount of stress creators it contains are infinite. When it comes to people blocking the way, a polite excuse me request usually works better than steaming. Considering that maybe they are friends who haven’t seen each other in ages, maybe one recently found out some extremely important facts that must be passed on and they don’t realize they are an obstruction. Maybe one is trying to gain assistance in reaching an item too high or far back, being tall sometimes I can help. Find a magazine to glance through to distract myself from what is in the cart before me and their payment methods. It isn’t my business anyway.
Change brings peace, but it also brings surprises. When you walk or drive the same route all the time, every time, the potential to miss a lot is there. Yes, you may know that it takes exactly five minutes and forty-five seconds to get to work, but if there is another route and time is not of strict importance (leave home a little early when possible) you may see a beautiful sunrise, the inhabitants of nature moving about, families enjoying a few moments together. Walking in a different place may show you flowers or other plant life you don’t see in your usual place. You may find wildlife and insect life that isn’t a normal sight. Carry a camera to capture what you are seeing. It doesn’t matter that you have no photographic career desires, capturing beauty in its many forms is therapeutic. Even if you don’t capture it to view later, you carry the images in your heart and mind and that alone can bring a smile. Walking provides quiet time. No matter how long your walk, it allows for a peace to flow in pushing the annoyances of the day out. If you pay attention and walk with the intent to de-stress, you can fill the change taking place. You can actually feel yourself relaxing and enjoying the walk.
All that walking, whether just a stroll or a vigorous hike? Not only does it lower stress levels as you are out in the peace and music of nature, but you’re getting exercise that helps not only the body but mind as well. Stress tends to tie one up in knots. Walking, especially if you walk at a faster rate than normal, is one way to work that out. Taking an exercise class or working out at home on a regular basis helps. Whether you are weight lifting, aerobics, or any other type, as long as you have cleared it with your doctor is good for you.
And yes, what we eat can raise our stress levels. Especially if we are trying to cut out a certain food group or type- such as processed sugar-and then we give in to temptation. I have often read that it is good in some cases to treat yourself from time to time. That couple of cookies, that one slice of cake, that bite of chocolate is okay as long as you don’t binge. In fact, dark chocolate has been shown to be good for you, as long as you are careful in how much you consume. In this case, more is not better.
If we watch the foods that we consume, eating more raw and natural foods rather than processed our body is better able to handle stress and the effects that it has on the body. If we take time to cook rather than microwave it is better. If and when we prepare meals at home, we know for the most part what is in that meal. What we put into our body does matter.
I am not a big fan of today’s television. I do not like to watch the news but I will watch weather reports if I fear storms are approaching. I have found that if I must fill the quiet of my home, I prefer the radio. I love music of almost all genres, so I can usually find something to deliver me from a bad mood. At times even being moved to get up and move. At home, it doesn’t matter that I have no rhythm and look as if I’m in need of medical intervention when I dance. The cats are entertained and I’m getting a stress relieving exercise moment.
Speaking of storms, from personal experience I have found that not being prepared brings on stress. The fear of doing without-something-the biggest factor. If we know before hand and are able to prepare or if we try to remain as much as possible in a state of preparedness that can lower our stress. Having foods that are non perishable in our cabinets, having a way to prepare those foods or having foods that don’t need much in way of preparation, having lanterns or candles (used safely), blankets or some way to generate power, ways to entertain ourselves and our children those can and will lower our stress levels. If those storms cause an event that is beyond our control as hurricanes and tornadoes, along with snow and ice are want to do causing one to have to evacuate then we must learn how to handle the shelter or other accommodation as best that we can and leave the stress behind.
Writing a journal can help. It gives you a place to write down the things that are bothering you where you can vent to your heart’s content and harm no one’s feelings or get yourself in trouble.
Finding a sport or outdoor activity that you enjoy helps. You can lose yourself in the activity and get that exercise thing going on. Fishing, sitting in a boat or on a pier is relaxing when you enjoy the scenery and peace. Catching fish for dinner is also good. Softball works out the knots of stress as does bowling. Bicycling in groups or in safe areas gets the heart rate up as well as giving you the passing scenery to enjoy. Gardening gives you time alone, time to work up a good sweat and grow some wonderful tasting fruits and vegetables. Pick your favorite activity and go with it.
Find a charitable event to participate in. You will reap the benefits of helping others and they will reap the benefits of your work and help.
Stress in our lives causes a lot of our health issues, headaches, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, asthma, skin conditions, depression, depression, anxiety and can cause other problems and health conditions to worsen. As a cancer survivor I have been told to keep my stress levels as low as possible. Drinking alcohol and smoking can elevate stress levels. Stress is a problem, it is a difficult issue to resolve unless you are fully determined to make changes in your lifestyle. Changes I am determined to make as I prefer not to go on medications to lower my cholesterol levels. Besides, life is much more enjoyable without that stress thing hanging around over my head.