I remember sitting there, half drowsy from the 5am alarm clock rising and half in disbelief that she could be so rude. Did she really just whip her brown ponytail around and say, “It’s all in your head, you know.” I gazed over the bus seats to see if anyone else heard her. Really, how could they not have. She was the only one standing up arranging her bags.
“I am not making up that I feel sick. My symptoms are real, they are not just in my head” I responded angrily through my gritted jaw with my eyes narrowed, hardly wanting to look at her.
She said something to the fact of, “Oh I’m sure you feel crummy. But it is all in your head.”
How could I argue with her? She probably had never felt sick. Besides, she was a bit of an odd duck. She was the only one who showed up to our orchestra concert wearing a bright, floral dress. Seriously. Every musician, even if you are pretty young, knows that the orchestra wears black.
I don’t remember much of that early morning bus ride or the destination that we were going to, but I do remember this conversation playing back in my head many times over the years.
As I completed my sociology degree, had more experience mentoring at risk youth, taught violin lessons, became a mom and started health coaching clients, I haveStrcome to realize that the girl from college wasn’t crazy, but rather, she was exactly right.
It is all in our head.
The mental stress we place ourselves under takes a HUGE toll on our body.
In order to protect us, our bodies have a built in fight or flight instinctual response. This allows us to make quick decisions when we are in dangerous situations and need to either run or fight back. But, instead of using our “Fight or Flight” instinctual response when needed in true emergencies (like running away from danger), we are engaging our fight or flight responses in our everyday lives over non life or death situations like our to-do lists, getting our kids to soccer practice, keeping up with the Jones’ etc. This constant level of stress that we are living under is taking a huge toll on our bodies physically and mentally.
I see this a lot in my health coaching.
People come to me to figure out and fix their health problems, but what we end up spending hours and weeks on is lowering their stress level by reconnecting to who they are at their core.
We spend countless hours on emotions. Clients find out that their emotional state impacts their digestion rate, it changes their heart rate, it changes their immune system response and it impacts their perception and decisions they make.
They find out that mental and emotional stress can cause us to hold anger in our backs, anxieties in our stomachs, tightness in our chest and stress in our digestive system. It can cause gut troubles, excema, and can compromise our immune systems. Stress can cause us to be overwhelmed, anxious, and lowers our good gut bacteria, making us susceptible to getting sick often.
In the push and shove of our busy lives, many of us either stuff emotions and dreams or let emotions take over.
I recently came across an article on anger and forgiveness that said this.
When you don’t forgive you release all the chemicals of the stress response,” Luskin says. “Each time you react, adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine enter the body. When it’s a chronic grudge, you could think about it twenty times a day, and those chemicals limit creativity, they limit problem-solving. Cortisol and norepinephrine cause your brain to enter what we call ‘the no- thinking zone,’ and over time, they lead you to feel helpless and like a victim. When you forgive, you wipe all of that clean.”
We as adults hold a lot of emotional baggage. You would think that it would be so heavy it would be obvious, but sadly most of us don’t even know it is there. We go about our days stressed out or overwhelmed, waiting for the next vacation. We make little things into big things. We start distorting our reality. Or perhaps more accurately, we think our reality IS reality and the only reality.
We get uptight. We get shorter fuses. We get annoyed at our kids. We pass our emotional baggage onto our kids.
Our stress is causing physical and emotional pain, not only to us, but those who we are supposed to be nurturing – our kids.
So how can you lower your stress level?
Stop the insanity of the to-do lists.
Stop the insanity of the busy badge.
Stop the insanity of putting so much pressure on being “right” and not making mistakes.
Stop the insanity of having to control everything.
Stop the insanity of the hectic schedules.
All of these things are pressure you have placed on yourself from your own brain. Sadly, we are teaching our kids to place this same pressure on themselves as they observe our behaviors.
Instead, engage in things that make you feel relaxed.
Observe your emotions verses reacting from them.
Observe your daily habits. Make changes where you need to.
Do more of what you love. Breathe. Savor the moment.
The other morning as I passed through the living room to go to work, my son, who had been fighting a high fever, was huddled in the corner in his favorite spot reading.
I blew kisses to him as I ran off to teach a violin lesson and promised to be back shortly.
When I returned, he was in the same position, with an intent look on his face. He said he felt better, but wanted to get out my iPad to watch WildCrats. I sighed. We are largely a technology free house for my kids. No TV. No video games. Occasional iPad.
While it would have been easy to say, “Sure,” I resisted. I had this gut feeling that there was something better to heal him that day, than to plunk him down in front of electronics.
Instead I suggested we go outside and lay in the grass. Being a nature lover kid, he happily agreed.
After walking around a bit he sat down next to me. “I feel better already mom.”
“Good, now lay down in the grass and feel the earth’s heartbeat,” I responded.
After a few minutes, he sat up refreshed.
Seeing the relaxed look on his face, I remembered a book I had been reading earlier, Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Nature Observation and Tracking. I had been intrigued by a few pages about the “fox walk.” The author, Tom Brown, was describing how to walk through a forest without being heard.
I ran back inside to grab the book and within a few minutes we were both barefoot on our front lawn, setting our feet down quietly from the outside of our foot and rolling inward with our weight. Immediately our steps felt more peaceful, more in tune with the ground below us.
My son practiced this for many minutes and as he did, his head began to raise, his shoulders began to raise. The sniffles from his nose came less often. His eyes looked better. His symptoms, which were real, were starting to disappear within a matter of minutes.
This was not some magic or coincidence, but simply the return of calm and peace within his body, mind and soul. He was engaging in what he loves to do, be one with nature.
When we do what we love, our body can heal itself.
See school started recently and as much as he loves his teacher, the p.e. teacher, the music teacher, etc. the environment makes him stressed as he puts tremendous pressure on himself to succeed. To give more than 100%, not only in his homework, but in his behavior. He got thrown off in kindergarten with a teacher and environment that was too focused on paperwork, so he worked incredibly hard to do his best in hopes of being seen and understood. While we tell him that who he is matters more than the scores at school, he still worries about “the big math bosses” who will see his tests – the people who know nothing about him, but are quick to judge his abilities based upon a piece of paper.
The best Rx for his stress is to be in an environment in which he thrives – the outdoors.
Let the kid climb a tree and all his troubles melt away.
When he is outdoors, it ignites the creative side of him. Being outside fosters his sense of wonder. There are not things to stress over, just things to experience.
I am not against paperwork or school, I know the value they can bring. But just like anything else in life, there needs to be a balance and we need to be aware of what we are placing the value or importance on.
We have become a society focused so intently on academics, job performance, our material possessions and our to-do lists that we have forgotten that our dreams and passions are what really carry us through life.
In order to feel better again, thrive and be healthy, we must teach ourselves and our kids to be aware of how we are holding stress in our bodies. We must (re)learn how to work through and release our emotions and reconnect to that child-like wonder. We must listen more and talk less. We must do more of what we love and provide unstructured time for our kids to just play, build, read and be creative.
I love this quote from an American teacher who recently took a job in Finland where they give kids 15 minute breaks for every one hour of learning.
Once I incorporated these short recesses into our timetable, I no longer saw feet-dragging, zombie-like kids in my classroom. Throughout the school year, my Finnish students would—without fail—enter the classroom with a bounce in their steps after a 15-minute break. And most importantly, they were more focused during lessons….We no longer need to fear that students won’t learn what they need to learn if we let them disconnect from their work for 10 or 15-minute periods, several times throughout the school day.
When we value our free time as much as we value our scheduled time, is when we will learn how to thrive again verses living under constant stress.
I want to hear from you.
What makes your heart sing?
What do your kids do that makes them thrive?
Share your thoughts in the comments below. 🙂 By sharing what you love to do, you will encourage others to focus less on their to-do lists and more on what they love.
To your health,
p.s. Here is a picture of me doing what I love – travelling!!! I get to spend time with my family, be outside, meet new people and see new things. I absolutely love it!!!!!!!!
Our family went 3,274.7 miles on our road trip this summer!! We had a blast, saw a ton, laughed much, didn’t sleep much and ate kind of crummy like you do on all road trips. Through it all, we all stayed healthy. When we returned, it wasn’t only my son who got sick. After a few days back on my regular schedule I stressed out and I got sick for the first time in 3 years! I am still recovering… I too must learn to do more of what I love and drop the stress I place myself under to get things done. I understand. It takes bravery to follow your heart in this busy world. But let’s do it anyway. 🙂
Go ahead. Be brave. Follow your heart more and leave the stress behind!
p.p.s. Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter (upper right hand corner of your screen). I have some fabulous things in the works for you….