Four Ways to Manage Stress
We wrote a blog post a couple months back that laid out the impact of stress on the body. Now, let’s talk about a few ways that you can manage that stress – to help avoid the impacts of stress on your body, and to just give yourself a break from it all!
1. Mindfulness: Mindfulness is about connecting with the present moment as a way to relieve yourself from ruminating on stressors. Any number of activities can be conducted mindfully – from eating to walking to listening to meditating. One of our favorite mindfulness activities is to take a moment to engage all of your senses:
- Take a few deep breaths
- Look around and find five things that you can see. Focus on unusual colors, shapes, objects, etc.
- Use your ears to identify four noises that you can hear. The buzzing of the fridge, the cawing of a crow, the rumbling of a motorcycle driving by, etc.
- Reach out and touch three things with your hands. Maybe it’s the feeling of the fabric of your clothes, or a rough patch in the concrete, etc.
- Take a deep breath in, and try to identify two different smells. Our lives are often absent of smell as a mark of hygiene – so try to break through that numbing effect and find something with a natural scent! The smell of freshly cut grass, the smell of food cooking, etc.
- What one thing can you taste? You don’t need to lick the table or anything… If there’s nothing around that’s good to eat / drink, you can just pay attention to the taste of your mouth as it is! Can you taste the tea you just drank? Or maybe the flavor of your toothpaste.
In Chinese medicine, using your senses helps to open up your Heart, which can help facilitate a sense of calm.
2. Exercise: It can seem counterintuitive, because exercise is itself a form of stress on the body! But we know that exercise can help lift the spirits, release endorphins, and generally lead to a sense of overall wellbeing. From a Chinese medicine perspective, exercise can help to smooth Liver Qi, which is particularly susceptible to the effects of stress.
But exercise doesn’t have to mean CrossFit everyday! Exercise can be going for a walk around the block or doing a few minutes of stretching at the end of your day. Fit in what you can, when you can. Every little bit counts.
3. Breath: When you’re stressed for an extended period of time, your body basically thinks that you’re constantly in danger – so it prioritizes resources accordingly (i.e., the heart gets more resources than it should, the reproductive system doesn’t get enough). Slow and steady breathing can help signal to your body that you aren’t actually in danger, that it can lower the defense systems, and that it can start to function in a more balanced fashion.
Again, this doesn’t mean that ALL of your breathing has to be slow and steady. But take moments in your day, when you’re feeling stressed, to focus on your breathing. Two minutes of deep breathing can make all the difference in the world.
4. Relaxing your body: We hold our stress in our body in so many different ways without even realizing it. We tense our shoulders, clench our jaw, hold our breath, tighten our glutes, etc. These habits can lead to pain and injury over time, and we don’t even realize it as it’s happening.
When you realize that you’re feeling stressed, check in on your body and see where you’re feeling tense. If you have trouble releasing that tension, try actively tightening and holding the muscles of the affected area for a few seconds, and then releasing that tension.
We also love the body scan meditation: When you’re lying down, with a slow steady breath, start to pay attention to your toes. Relax your toes as fully as you can. Then bring your attention to the arches of your feet, and relax those muscles as fully as possible. Move through all of the muscles in your body, including your neck, jaw, tongue, face, and head!
By relaxing your muscles, you are providing your body with another feedback loop that you’re not in danger, and it’s OK to relax. From a Chinese medicine perspective, relaxing areas of tension allows the Qi and Blood to flow more smoothly, which prevents the stagnation that comes with stress.
Of course, acupuncture and Chinese herbs provide another effective path towards finding some peace in the midst of a turbulent time. Click here if you would like to schedule an appointment to come in to the Flourish clinic for treatment, or if you’d like to schedule a virtual consult for Chinese herbs.
Keeping Your Lungs Healthy throughout Fire Season
Our hearts are heavy with the challenge that once again faces our community. Wildfires are already burning strong, and it’s only August. We may be facing an extended period of exposure to wildfire smoke, as well as an extended period of feeling unsettled and alert, here in Sonoma County. Sigh.
In an effort to serve our community as best we can, we wanted to share some wisdom and resources to help you keep your lungs healthy and protected from the smoke. We recognize that, for many of you, life does not currently afford the ability to engage in all of these self-care recommendations. So… pick one thing that you can do right now! Or, just come back to your breath, which is always there to help you ground.
Our main goals for maintaining lung health while the fires are burning are two-fold: primarily, of course, to prevent as much smoke inhalation as possible; secondarily, we want to keep the respiratory tract moist, so that your body can appropriately trap and excrete smoke particles that do make their way in. Here are some things you can do to help keep your lungs healthy…
- Mask for smoke (vs. mask for COVID): We’re all used to wearing face masks at this point, but it may be time to consider changing your day-to-day mask. While double layer cotton masks are effective for COVID protection, they aren’t effective at keeping the particulate matter from smoke out of your lungs.
- N95 or P100 masks are recommended if you’ll be spending significant time outside on smoky days. BUT… because of COVID, these masks are in short supply and should still be saved for our healthcare workers and other essential workers that need respiratory protection on the job. So, please try to use any that you already have on hand, rather than going out and buying a huge supply of new ones!
- Vogmasks or similar masks that include filtration are a great reusable option to protect yourself while avoiding the consumption of valuable supplies needed by essential workers.
- If you are using an N95 or Vogmask that has an exhalation valve, it is not COVID safe. Make sure you cover the valve with tape, or you wear a second-layer COVID-safe mask over it.
- Masking properly is especially important for those of you with preexistent lung issues, for pregnant women, and for anyone working towards fertility (regardless of gender)!
- Run air filters in your house on smoky days: Any HEPA filter will do, it doesn’t have to be fancy! If you don’t already own a HEPA filter, this video tells you how you can make one yourself, on the cheap.
- Do daily steam baths: Get a bowl of steamy water, stick your face over the bowl (make sure you don’t burn yourself, obviously!), and toss a towel over your head to form a tent that traps the steam inside. Breathe deeply, and hang out there for 10 mins or so. This will help keep your respiratory passages nice and moist, and soothe that dry scratchy feeling that comes with continued smoke exposure.
- Get lots of antioxidants: Wildfire smoke inhalation results in oxidative stress on the body. Antioxidants help to undo that damage. Eat more berries, dark leafy greens, nuts, dark chocolate and green tea! Oh, and red wine… that should help.
- You can also consider supplementing antioxidants, including vitamin C, N-acetyl cysteine (supports glutathione production), and selenium.
- Stay hydrated: Simple, but crucial.
- Drink tea: Some great options for supporting lung health are peppermint, green, ginger, licorice and / or turmeric tea. Add some honey to moisten the respiratory tract.
- Eat pears: Pear season is just getting started – and the timing is a gift from nature. From a Chinese medicine perspective, pears are the perfect food to nourish and moisten the lungs. If you’re feeling extra ambitious, you could cut a pear in half, drizzle some honey and cinnamon on it, and bake it in the oven for 30 minutes at 350. Delicious and nutritious.
- Process your grief: According to Chinese medicine theory, the lungs are the organ that help us process grief. So, when we have unresolved grief, it has the potential to muck up the function of the lungs. We realize it’s not particularly helpful to just say “deal with it!”, especially during a year filled with so much widespread grief. But consider setting some time aside in your day to think / talk / cry / yell / journal / sing about any grief you’re feeling in this moment, or any grief you may have stored up inside. And come back to your breath (slow, deep and steady) as a tool to help you process.
- Likewise, putting effort into preserving the health of your lungs will help ensure you have the strength that you need to process the grief that comes with this painful moment in time.
- Come in for acupuncture and herbs: Calm your spirit, protect your lungs, and get on the right herbal formula for this point in time. We’re still working at the clinic – book your appointment online, or be in touch with any questions.
- If you can’t make it in person, because you have evacuated out of the area, please remember that virtual appointments are also available!
- Take care of your spiritual health: Dr Jen’s organization, Integrative Healers Action Network, has been sharing some great resources for this time. On Thursday at noon, they will be offering a live event on Facebook entitled Getting Your Spiritual Health Prepared for Fire Season.
We are with you in spirit through these challenging times. Once again, we’re all in this together – Sonoma strong!
Addressing Stress with Acupuncture
A common thread amongst many of the patients that we’ve seen recently is STRESS! At this moment in time, we are, as a community, facing a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, political turmoil, and the return of fire season. Sigh.
How Stress Impacts the Body
These stressors throw our nervous system into fight flight or freeze response, which can lead to a variety of physical and emotional imbalances that affect everyone in unique ways. For some patients, stress can lead to insomnia and restlessness; for others, anxiety might flare up or their digestion might be on the fritz.
These imbalances are frustrating in the moment. Over time, they can turn into more serious issues – such as high blood pressure, oxidative stress, decreased immune response, and general inflammation – and can wreak havoc on all of the body’s systems.
How Acupuncture Can Help with Stress
One of the things that we love about acupuncture is the significant impact that it can have on a patient’s stress levels.
You may have already experienced the deep sense of relaxation that can come with a few needles, but did you know that research has measured the physiological effects of acupuncture on stress markers? It has been shown to increase heart rate variability, inhibit inflammation, and reduce the hormonal stress response of the HPA axis, to name a few. In fact, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) recommends acupuncture as a complementary treatment for anxiety and depression, citing growing evidence of its efficacy.
From a more holistic perspective, acupuncture gives our patients an opportunity to rest and relax, helps to pull the body back into balance, and allows our patients to be present with their body and their emotions. And Chinese medicine treatment doesn’t end when we remove your needles! We ensure that our patients have tools that they can use to address stress in their everyday lives – including qigong exercises, mindfulness-meditation, breathing exercises, acupressure points, and herbal or supplemental remedies.
Feeling Stressed? Come See Us!
Click here to contact us with any questions you might have about how Chinese medicine can help you address stress, or to schedule an appointment for acupuncture today.
Our Team’s Tips for Staying Healthy & Sane and Our Virtual Offerings
Discover the Medicine of the Forest
“Every tree, plant, hill, mountain, rock, and each thing that was here before us emanates or vibrates at a subtle that has healing power whether we know it or not. So if something in us must change, spending time in nature provides a good beginning” – Malidoma Somé
As an Integrative Health and Wellness Coach, I talk to many women about their emotional and physical states, which are often (if not always) connected to one another. Situations that I seem to hear time and time again are:
I feel tired and overwhelmed.
I wish I had more time to do the things that I love to do.
There feels like there is just something missing in my life.
Burnout. Stress. Overwhelm. Numbness. This cycle has become all too common in our culture. Demanding work environments, raising a family, being constantly barraged by the notifications from emails, texts, social media – it’s easy to feel stressed and overwhelmed by everyday life. To add more fuel to the fire, we are spending more time indoors, away from the natural environment, than ever before in human history. The average American is spending less than 5% of their day outdoors, which is a dramatic shift from even just a few decades ago. What is all this time indoors, glued to technology, doing to our health and wellbeing? Countless research shows that our highly industrialized environment, full of artificial lights, loud noises, poor indoor air quality, chemicals, and electromagnetic pollution, is harmful to human health and is directly linked to chronic stress and disease.
Chronic stress can dramatically affect a person’s health. The American Psychology Association (APA) shares that “it can make existing health problems worse, and even cause disease, either because of changes in the body or bad habits people develop to cope with stress. The bottom line is that stress can lead to real physical and emotional health consequences”.
Revelatory research conducted over the last 30 years demonstrates a variety of ways that spending time in nature reduces stress and significantly promotes overall health and wellbeing. Through government funding and support, Japan and South Korea have created forest therapy programs that guide individuals to be in nature in a safe, intentional way to promote healing. Here in the United States, such funding and support are more limited but there are a handful of programs that train individuals to guide others to be in the forest in a way that embraces mindfulness and expanded awareness in order to promote the physiological, psychological, and spiritual healing benefits nature provides.
After completing my Master’s Degree in Integrative Health Studies and my six-month training to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide, I am delighted to be offering a four-walk series called “Women’s Wellness Forest Therapy Walks”. By combining the standard sequence of the mindfulness-oriented Forest Therapy walks with the powerful tools of cultivating self-compassion, vulnerability, and resiliency inspired by leaders in the fields of neuroscience and behavior change such as Brené Brown, Kristin Neff, and Kelly McGonigal, I will bring groups of ten women or less into the forests of Sonoma County to learn ways to not only manage stress and practice self-care but to feel more resilient and empowered to handle the fast-paced reality of living in 2018.
Sometimes life throws us curveballs. And like a forest, we as individuals have a web of interconnected pillars of support and strength. Lean into the shadows. Find gold out of the darkness. And breathe in the fresh and vibrantly alive forest of life that surrounds you.
Forest Therapy Walk Schedule:
April 21 – Cultivating Your Intuition
May 5 – Self-Compassion & Self-Care
May 19 – Tapping Into Vulnerability
June 2 – Community Building & Resiliency
Space is limited to 10 self-identified women per walk. The themes and practices of each walk are designed for this to be a cohesive experience from start to finish, but attendees who are unable to commit to the entire series are welcome to join for individual walks as well. There is a 25% discount if you purchase all four walks in advance. Please secure your space by purchasing your ticket here by April 13th. As a patient of Flourish Integrative Health, I invite you to use promo code FLOURISH to receive an exclusive 15% off this offering. With any questions, please email me at email@example.com.
Jenny Harrow, MA has a Master’s Degree in Integrative Health Studies and is certified as an Integrative Health & Wellness Coach, Guided Imagery Practitioner, and Forest Therapy Guide. A Sonoma County native, Jenny is deeply passionate about leading individuals and groups on a journey of self-exploration and healing. In addition to being the Operations Manager at Flourish Integrative Health, she has several nature-oriented offerings through her practice EcoWisdom and is co-founder of the nonprofit Integrative Healers Action Network, which emerged from the recent Sonoma County wildfires and aims to bring integrative healing services to emergency response situations.
Tools to Release Trauma
Three weeks have passed since the fires started. During this time, our community has experienced the full range of human emotion. Some of us were evacuated. Some of us lost our homes. As a community, we have experienced both individual and collective trauma. Here at Flourish Integrative Health, we would like to share the tools and resources we have from not only our respective medical educations and training but also what we are implementing for ourselves as we move into this next stage of recovery and healing.
5 Steps to Release Trauma
“The lotus flower blooms most beautifully from the deepest and thickest mud”
- Shake your body and sigh.
- 4/7/8 breath from Dr. Andrew Weil, leader in Integrative Medicine. Click here to view the health benefits and demonstration.
- Release Technique as taught in “Love Yourself and Let the Other Person have it your way”. Click here for a demonstration.
- Acupuncture: We have a few protocols that are helpful post-trauma. Expect 3-6 sessions to start. Click here to schedule an appointment or a complimentary 15-minute consult.
- Medical Qigong: Deeper support during this transition. Do you feel shaken from this experience whether or not you lost your home? Are you experiencing a sense of feeling lost or unable to find yourself, or wanting a new direction and just not sure how to find it? Expect to start with 3 sessions. Click here to schedule an appointment or a complimentary 15-minute consult.
Dr. Jen Riegle, ND, is offering B12 and B5 shots for fire recovery
- Increased Energy
- Elevated Mood
- Increased Cognitive Function and Memory
- Supports Adrenal Function
- Support Immune System
These shots are $20 each or pay what you can during these times. Available to everyone.
Community is an integral piece to healing trauma and wounds. If you ever want someone to talk to, to share a cup of tea, or spend time in community, please always feel free to reach out. We are all in this together.