By Dietitian Jill Place
I’m sooo excited … I’m sharing with you something that saved MY life … and I’m sure will save yours. How to reduce stress & boost awareness.
Actually, these two go hand-in-hand. You use certain tools to reduce stress. And those tools also boost your awareness.
The good news … if you’ve done a lot of similar work this will be a snap for you. The bad news … if you haven’t this might take you some time. But everybody’s instruments are unique and profound. And need to be honored for what they are.
Reducing stress is probably the most important thing you can do to heal your gut … heal your health … and heal just about every aspect of your life. Here’s …
What Stress Does to the Body
Stress affects just about every aspect of the body … your mind, digestion, skin, sleep, pain risk (both physical and mental), and ability to reproduce. It ain’t called “fight or flight” for nothing.
Because our systems were made to divert all our energy to our legs to run away. And then return to “rest and digest”.
That worked for early man running away from a sabre tooth tiger. Because … after the threat passed … they would then return to a resting state almost immediately.
That doesn’t happen in our stressed society today. We’re constantly firing “on all thrusters”. All the energy is diverted to our ability to run away. Which leaves many of our vital systems high and dry.
Especially our ability to digest. I still remember my mom telling me when I was a kid at the beach (I grew up on Long Island … which is pretty much all beach) that I couldn’t go in the water for at least an hour after I ate. Wise lady!
I didn’t know it then, but it was because of the stress response. If you’re diverting your energy to your limbs for exercise it’s a kind of stress too.
In summary, stress causes an acidic bodily environment (which allows for imbalances and overgrowths of every kind from bacteria to parasites), shuts down the immune and digestive systems, and disturbs the gut-brain axis … all of which cause leaky gut which causes inflammation … my two favorite topics to fume about.
Wanna know more? Read 4 Ways Stress Causes Leaky Gut,
My Story in Brief
In the second article, I explain my own journey toward mindfulness. Including its link to boosting awareness. Let’s face it … when you sit and breathe and spend time with yourself you just can’t have any other outcome.
I HAD to begin to practice it. Because I had a HUMONGOUS panic disorder. Made worse over the years when I was acting. And had to have my emotions at my fingertips.
I actually remember being curled up several places (one twined around a toilet bowl in the ancient bathroom) in the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute … gasping for air. Which was really embarrassing as I was pretty much running the place from time to time.
Since I was also practicing relaxation, I began to use it at times when I could feel a panic coming on. I knew nothing about mindfulness as a skill then.
But I was also learning a skill called “Guided Imagery” from the therapist I needed to get to see me through all this. “Guided Imagery” is a kind of cousin and extension of mindfulness.
It’s also very close to the acting training I learned from Lee. As well as the basis for the physical type of mindfulness I created that I call “Acting Out”.
Later … when I have left acting behind me and went into private practice … I began to realize the wealth of stuff I had learned from acting could be used in behavior modification. I began to use a combination of what I had learned there plus the guided imagery work from my therapist.
And people began to heal! Because slowing down and sitting with yourself not only makes you instantly go from “fight or flight” to “rest, relax … and digest”. It gave us a unique window into how you view the world. And yourself.
Mindfulness in Brief
Mindfulness is breathing. And spending time with yourself in the moment instead of having thoughts constantly flooding in that confuse and overwhelm you.
So that you can select your thoughts and make your own deep-down heart-felt decisions. Unswayed by any outside insanity.
I’m constantly working with often one-session patients at my psychiatric hospital on breathing. As they’re often either crying or otherwise spinning psychologically out of control.
Because the best way I know to bring them out of it … and also reduce stress, leaky gut, and inflammation … which leads to a whole host of health problems … is to practice mindfulness. The body has to rid itself of stress in some way, and this is the easiest, most effective way I know.
Mindfulness isn’t a thing that you can explain to understand why it’s so helpful. Like my acting exercises (my coach once told me to stop asking questions and “just move”!), you have to DO it to see how valuable it is.
Wanna experience mindfulness firsthand? Try my MicroMindfuls™ … sequential snippets of mindfulness I made just for you.
One study summarized, “We conclude that mindfulness brings about various positive psychological effects, including increased subjective well-being, reduced psychological symptoms and emotional reactivity, and improved behavioral regulation”.
In other (and plainer) words, mindfulness allows you to come to terms with who you are (whatever that is). And, in doing so, allows you to control your behavior in a way that’s beneficial for your own well-being.
And … as I personally found out … it’s a powerful window into not only your body but your soul. It allows you to glimpse first-hand how you tick. And … from that … allows you to make better life choices for yourself.
It also enables you stop and drink in a gorgeous sunset (we have lots of them here) or take in fully the aroma of an equally gorgeous rose. So, all around, being there is better for you in every way.
I won’t sugar-coat it for you and say it’s all sunsets and roses. It takes work, is an ongoing journey, and can be daunting to look at yourself squarely in the face.
We resist those things. But … if you can get beyond all that … life can be not only exciting and passionate but also a way to claim our universal right to be fulfilled and happy.
Acting Out … Advanced Stress Reduction
I’m going to be brief here as I’m still working on this idea … but have begun to incorporate it into my treatments. It’s something I’ve been kicking around probably for decades.
Y’see … I was trained in multiple physical approaches to acting. Even Method acting … which focuses upon honing the use of emotions … begins with a physical relaxation training. Sitting in a chair moving your body for two hours also has the side benefit of connecting to and understanding it.
You also gain knowledge of where you’re tense and … if you do this awhile (we’re talking 10 years with me) you not only become acutely aware of where you’re holding (and … amazingly … your body automatically readjusts) but about your inner workings too.
For example, I had bad back pain just yesterday. Instead of thinking “back pain” I thought “bile duct blocked” because my symptoms were not only back pain but fatigue and digestive upset. I’ve experienced this before … supplements, chiropractor (mine’s also a wonder-worker), rest … WA-LA!
Up and running today. I also was blessed to study a little-known very-physical acting technique which I later incorporated into my training. ALL of this combined is what I call “Acting-Out” in deference to where it originally came from.
The theory behind this is to not only connect with the body in a passive way … as one pretty much does with mindfulness. And engage the body to not only learn more … as I did … about how it relaxes and reacts … but to give whoever participates a fast path to healing.
I start with movement to relax the face and shoulders as that seems to be where we hold much of our stress. And continue with more body parts and movement as we go.
I’m NOT teaching you what I learned as an actor … those exercises were severe and the purpose was something else entirely (including headstands and leaping over three people). But the idea of becoming more aware of all aspects of yourself is a sound strategy.
I’ll keep you posted on my progress. Along with more exercises. Meanwhile … stick with mindfulness … it’s well-researched and it WORKS!
Mindfulness is the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves. … it is the miracle which can call back in a flash our dispersed mind and restore it to wholeness so that we can live each minute of life. ~ Hanh