I am not a huge comic book fan, but I live in a house full of them! By way of osmosis I have acquired quite a bit of knowledge that will from time to time seep into my writing. If my husband could be anyone other than my fabulous husband, he would totally be Batman.

As a child, Batman (aka Bruce Wayne), falls into a cave and is attacked by bats. When he decides to become a crime fighting superhero to avenge the death of his parents, he chooses to become his own most feared creature… the bat.

So, in the spirit of embracing the things that cause us distress to achieve freedom … I introduce to you the newest comic book character “Stress Woman”!

Ok…not really BUT we do tend to gravitate to and study the things which impact and afflict our lives. I have spent most of my adult life attempting to slow down, better manage my stress, and repeating this cycle a few hundred times.

If you need any documentation I can direct, you to a bookcase that contains ridiculous amounts of journaling on these very topics…siiiiigggghhhh. For a quicker response just ask anyone who knows me.  I have tried not to sweat the small stuff, the 24/6 life, and even the Hebrew day planner (but get real I still don’t understand daylight savings time!).

“Stress Management” has been taught for years. However, past methods that encourage us to cut down on the amount of stress only tap into a small piece. The truth is that STRESS is not the problem but rather the way we RESPOND to the stress in our life creates the danger.

Many of us recall from Health Class 101 the body response of “Flight or Fight”. This function of our body was designed to keep us safe and gets triggered whenever we feel threatened. This triggered response releases an army of hormones including adrenaline, epinephrine, and cortisol.

Awesome if you are about to fight a tiger or the Joker, Penguin, or Riddler! However… not as useful when your computer decides to do 20 updates and your boss wanted a report 2 hours ago, or your toddler throws down on aisle 5 with everyone staring, or you just got rejected for a promotion you were counting on. I think you get the picture.

Our bodies were designed only to run this “Flight or Fight” mode in emergencies but the stress we live under today keeps our body running on this emergency setting more frequently than it should. It’s like propping your car on blocks and setting a brick on the accelerator of a car and leaving it running wide open. The parts to this car will wear out way quicker and suffer more damage than with proper use and maintenance of the car.

The marketing in our society is very crafty in leading us to believe that the way to relieve stress is to step away from our lives. We get sucked into binge watching Netflix, going to events, or scrolling for hours on our phones. Not that in moderation these things are bad, but they are just distractions. They do not address the chemicals and tensions in our body that are pent up from accumulated stress. If not released, these are the things that create pain and disease.

Stress is at the root of so many of our current health issues. Fatigue, burnout, anxiety, addiction, and chronic illness can all be linked to stress. While the disease of “busyness” and feeling overwhelmed has become a symbol of status in our culture, we are paying a high price with our quality of life and health. 

So, what DOES release these things? While I don’t have it all figured out yet I can tell you this much. My life over the last year even with a husband, job, THREE teens, and all the other demands of “adulting” has been a very different experience. No, I did not suddenly become independently wealthy and ship my entire family away, but I did discover a wonderful new way of viewing my stress.

The practice of Mindfulness has created order in the chaos of my world, and trust me, NO ONE can rock chaos like me! This knowledge I have gained and the time in practice have allowed space in my life to get quiet, centered, and process my emotions like nothing I have ever tried before.

The science behind Mindfulness is incredible and continues to emerge. It allows our brain to signal to the body that all is well again, thus shutting down the emergency processes.  Our bodies can then return to “rest and digest” versus emergency mode. The less or body runs on emergency mode the less wear and tear on all of our amazing systems.

Living mindfully is first and foremost about living in the present. Not digging up events in our mind from the past…not worrying about the future. We are staying in the present. After all…the present is all we truly are guaranteed.

We tend to wear our ability to multitask as a badge of honor, especially as women. Come on ladies, you know that is true! However, mindfulness is about focusing on one task at a time and truly staying present in that moment. TRUST ME…this does not come naturally, it is learned through practice.

Mindfulness practices also include breathing exercises and meditation. Do not panic! You do not need to join a monastery, sit on a rock, or change your religious views. Meditation benefits include increased happy brain chemicals, lower blood pressure, improved digestion, decreased pain and best of all just an increased sense of peace. Now if we could buy all that in a pill we would race right out and get it!

The great news about mindfulness is that you can start with you 5 minutes here and there.

This guide can help you jump start you first session!

Sit in a supportive chair and rest your hands on the tops of your thighs with your legs hip distance apart

First minute: Breathe Deeply…inhale for 4 counts and exhale for 6 counts. While focusing on the breath think about your mind becoming quieter and feel your feet in contact with the floor.

Second minute: Tune into your breath and allow it to relax into a natural pace. Imagine the breath flowing from your shoulders to your belly. Think release.

Third minute: Continue to be aware of your breathing. If thoughts or “to do” list enter your mind imagine them like a cloud floating away. Don’t try to push or force them out just let them float away.

Fourth minute: Just simply sit and be, release your focus on the breath. There is nothing to fix or change…enjoy!

Fifth minute: Think of something that you are grateful for and focus on that. Then take a moment to remember what this sensation of stillness and calm feels like. Then resume your day.

Remember the goal of resiliency is not that we will not have any stress. It is the way we react and respond to the stress that changes. I encourage you to explore mindfulness and how it can bring peace to the chaos of your life.

If you would like to learn more ways like this to reduce the impact of stress on your life and live more peacefully, come out on November 3, 2018 to the Firehouse downtown Goldsboro and experience the JOY event! Just click on the JOY to find out more info and sign up.

As always, until next time may you be well, may you be loved, and may you know true peace.

Read more about Melissa C. Harrell and her work. Like Resiliency Counseling and Consulting, PLLC

The purpose of this blog is to offer educational information related to mental wellness. Resiliency Counseling & Consulting, PLLC and Melissa Harrell do not offer diagnosis or treatment through this medium. If you feel that you or a family member needs to access mental health services, first contact your primary care physician for assessment and direction in your area. If you need immediate help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.