How do you manage stress in your life? We all deal with it. What really is stress? Stress is the way we react to a situation. When you realize you have a choice on how to react to stress, with a proper mindset and positive energy, you can flip those tough situations over on their head.
Many moms use alcohol to cope with stress and anxiety, myself included. Why wouldn’t I when it was the most readily available, easy way to deal with my stress? Open the bottle, pour a glass, zone out, and turn all that chatter in my mind off. I thought it was helping my stress at the time, but it was actually making my situation worse.
How was it reducing my stress when after drinking, I would have a horrible night sleep and wake up in the middle of full of anxiety? I would have a hangover the next day, the energy was sucked out of me, and felt the guilt and shame that I did it AGAIN. How was THAT reducing my stress??
I was using alcohol as a band-aid because I didn’t know any other way to help me deal with the overwhelm in my life. I had trained my brain to crave the alcohol when the thoughts in my mind started to go haywire. My nervous system was so revved up, and since I did not want to sit with that uncomfortable feeling, having some drinks was the only way out that I was aware of. The brain naturally seeks pleasure and avoids pain. I was using alcohol to regulate my nervous system because I didn’t know how else to shut down those thoughts and feelings of uncomfortable angst.
It’s what alcohol does – it makes us numb, temporarily shuts down that constant chatter and essentially gives us a break. But that is all it is – a break and a very temporary one. Once we sober up, whatever it is in our life that was causing us stress, is still there, and since our body and brain is busy detoxing the alcohol out of our system by using the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, we feel even more stressed and anxious.
Since then, I have learned about the importance of stress resilience. What if instead of reaching for a substance that will end up making your situation worse, you had a way to squash the craving by calming down your nervous system?
Calming the nervous system down will lead you to making better decisions in your daily life. It will also help give you an overall sense of peace, helping shut that overwhelm down and fulfilling the need to use an external substance to meet your needs.
Some examples are meditation, deep breathing, spending time in nature, practicing mindfulness, journaling, yoga, exercise, or making connections with others. It’s about being open to trying something new that maybe you haven’t considered before because you thought you didn’t have the time, or you just never resonated with it.
Meditation is one of my favorite ways to keep stress away and has many benefits such as improved mood, focus, productivity, energy, sleep and allows for better reaction to stressful situations. I have been meditating on a daily basis for over four years, and I have experienced clear benefits from it, which continue to bring me back to it daily. On the days I don’t meditate, I feel the effects and don’t feel as balanced. Since developing the regular practice, it’s almost like I crave it because I know how good it makes me feel. It’s a similar feeling to my morning exercise routine. I do it because I know it makes me feel good and sets me up with the brain-space and energy I need for a productive day.
Deep mediation can be so restful that it can be more relaxing and therapeutic than sleep! The level of rest that the body experiences during a 20 minute meditation session can be two to five times deeper than what you get in the deep sleep cycle during the night.
I find the best time for myself to meditate is when my brain and body need it most – in mid-afternoon. This is the time of the day when I may start to feel a bit of a slump. I feel reenergized after a meditation session, like I just took a nap, and much more balanced for the transition in my day for when my boys arrive home. I also feel a calmness about me for the remainder of the day. Since I started a regular meditation practice, I notice I react to stressful situations with much more ease.
I have heard many people reply when I ask if they have tried meditation, “I can’t clear my mind, I can’t not think about anything.” That is not what meditation is all about! People anticipate it being more difficult than it really is. It is of course natural for our brains to always be in thinking mode. With meditation, we are just quieting our minds down.
My favorite type of meditation is a seated meditation focusing on a mantra. I repeat the mantra in my mind, doing the best I can to focus on it. If I find my mind straying to a thought such as “Ugh, I have to do another load of laundry”, I refocus my mind back to the mantra. Coming back to the mantra is like giving my brain a rep (like in weight lifting). The more reps my brain does, the more support for my prefrontal cortex, which will lead me to better focus and decision making throughout the day.
There are many forms of meditation, and not all types will resonate with everyone. For beginners, finding a few guided meditations to experiment with would be a great place to start. Yoga Nidra is a type of guided meditation where you focus on different parts of your body, which is super relaxing and can be done anytime of the day and is also a great one to implement into your bedtime routine.
Have some fun exploring and experimenting! Benefits can be experienced with as little as 5 minutes of meditation per day! There are some great apps out there such as Calm, Headspace, and Insight Timer, which is a free option that has a library of meditations and is the one I use.
Learning ways to cope with stress instead of turning to overdrinking or overeating will make a world of a difference, and will provide you with an overall positive mood throughout the day. Including a daily practice in your routine that exercises your mind and soul and feels good can help fill your cup in the most unexpected ways.