stressful times call for mindful measures

Although 2020 has packed a wallop, there are still ways to mellow out
By Christa Shephard

Perhaps there is no adjective more aptly suited for the year of 2020 than “stressful.” The daily life of the average person is stressful enough. Now in the midst of global crisis and political turmoil, it’s no mystery why many Hoosiers and their neighbors may be experiencing heightened stress.

Stress, if left unchecked, can wreak havoc on the body, mind and soul. Everyone — no matter the circumstance — experiences stress of some sort. With or without a global pandemic overturning daily activities, we are all prone to stress; it’s a chemical reaction designed to ensure survival. But it’s not unbeatable.

What it can do
Therapist Jennifer Ridge says, “To manage stress is so important because the scientific community has shown us the negative effects of stress on our bodies, even our life span.”
Stress is a warning, according to Ridge. However, it is not necessarily a bad omen.

“Stress should be a red flag [for] us to pay attention to both the effects of the stress as well as where it’s coming from,” she says. “Meaning, is it a positive? Is it a healthy stressor or is it an unhealthy stressor?”

Self-evaluating is key to getting ahead of the anxiety that comes with stress. However, stress may impact people more than they realize by the time their anxiety reaches an unhealthy level.

“I think where it becomes unhealthy though is when your physical or emotional symptoms become negatively impacted,” Ridge says. “So if you notice significant mood changes, physical and/or emotional changes such as irritability, feeling more on edge, feeling out of control, that’s where it crosses the line: a change in your functioning level.”

Identifying symptoms of stress may be easier said than done. Unhealthy stress may take a physical toll as well as an emotional one. Physical symptoms may be more difficult to attribute to stress, but they happen all the time.

“If you notice an increase in somatic issues — your stomach’s hurting, you have bathroom issues, chronic headaches — that’s a change in your baseline,” says Ridge. “If you notice those are new symptoms, we need to look at the impact of stress.”

Outsiders, too, may notice a change in a stressed individual. Because stress can be so overarching, it can impact working and personal relationships. It sounds scary, but it can actually be a good thing if someone takes notice.

Ridge says, “And if others notice that too — your good friends or your church members — it’s good to listen to those people. They care about you.”

Some bones about it
Stress, both good and bad, can change the body. Different people carry anxiety in different ways. Tension can be found in the neck and shoulders of some, in the hips and hands of others. It can even affect the integrity of a person’s spinal structure.

“Many studies show that once you have a lot of stress, then your stress can definitely impact quality of spine because chronic stress creates an inflammation response of your body,” says Dr. Reina Lee, a chiropractor and acupuncturist for Greenwood Health Center.

When stress becomes unhealthy, the body can react painfully due to inflammatory responses of soft tissue along the spine. However, it can also affect the integrity of the spine itself.

“At the same time, [stress] can cause abnormal structure [of] your spine. That’s not the end,” says Lee. Because the spine is the foundation of your nervous system, controls all your body’s organs, stress sufferers can have other health issues, too.”

A less-than-supportive spine can weaken a body’s power to fight or heal itself, Lee says.

There isn’t just one treatment for stress at Greenwood Health Center. Usually, each patient requires his own plan, which sometimes includes acupuncture, that, Lee says, “makes less inflammation.”

“It depends on the patients,” says Lee. “Sometimes they have more structure issues, or they have more inflammatory or chemical imbalance issues, so it totally depends on the patient. And we can help with your nutrition. Because I noticed many patients, once they have stress, they do not want to eat or they want to eat more.”

Mindfulness over matters
Chiropractic care isn’t the only route one can take toward managing stress. It may seem like an age-old solution, but the ancient practice of yoga has been helping people for centuries.

“In the modern day, most people use yoga for relaxing the mind, stretching the body,” says Chia Bush, owner of Studio You Yoga & Pilates in Greenwood. “It’s a physical exercise, but it also has the benefit of calming the mind and [helps us] deal with the stress in life.”

Yoga originated in India, and it used to be an extremely spiritual practice. Bush says, “The translation of yoga is actually ‘unity.’ Unity is a combination of everything, exercise and also breathing. You have to breathe in class and also incorporate mindfulness as well.”

Learning to breathe and move through yogic practices, be they strenuous or gentle, opens a yogi up to how stress impacts the physical body.

Bush says, “A lot of us carry stress in the shoulders and also [in the] hips area. If you don’t pay attention, you probably will not know until you start [going to class]. And then, once you start to do yoga, your first day, you feel a physical reaction.”

The beauty in that physical reaction, however, is that it can alert a person to where they carry stress. Once people learn where they hold stress, they can be mindful of that both on and off the mat.
Mindfulness: often preached, but seldom practiced. However, mindfulness is the key stress-reliever to which each expert returned. To be mindful is to be centered in the present moment, neither worrying about the past nor the future.

“That mindfulness piece is huge when we find that we’re struggling with being super stressed out; to just stop and look around and be grateful for the things that we do have,” Ridge says. “Because, gosh knows, our times are stressful enough.”

In an era of uncertainty, one thing people can be most sure of is themselves. And finding inner peace is an individual endeavor.

“That can’t always be prescribed,” says Ridge. “I think we need to look at what brings us joy. Whatever it is, whatever brings them joy, that’s the thing that brings the most stress relief.”