STRESS ALERT! In the last few months money has been tight at my house.
OH, we can pay our bills, but there is little left to spread around after the well pump had to be replaced and the winter’s propane bill got dropped in our mailbox. It’s nothing new, it isn’t all the time and I’m not complaining. We chose a life that feeds our souls, not our bank accounts. But the truth of short term scarcity is that it’s stressful. I’m sure you can relate.
The thing is, I don’t know about you, but the older I get, the harder I find it is to manage my stress levels.
None of the stressors have changed – work, family, money – they just seem to settle into my body more often than they used to and I usually end up sick with a cold or a back ache or just a level of fatigue that won’t quit.
Trust me, just because I teach health and wellness doesn’t mean I always have my sh** together. I struggle with the same challenges you do!
And in reality, without estrogen, our bodies are hormonally primed for a wallop when it comes to stress! All the more reason to take it seriously and get on the stress reduction bandwagon.
You see, the level of the stress hormone cortisol in your body tends to increase with age, for reasons not well understood.
Cortisol is normally produced whenever you feel under pressure, and normally subsides when things calm down. The problem comes when our level of stress is chronic – those day in and day out pressures that just chip away at you. In chronic stress, cortisol levels are chronically high, too high.
The symptoms of chronically elevated cortisol levels often mimic the symptoms of menopause, including weight gain, loss of bone mass and fatigue.
Interestingly, cortisol levels are often higher at night in post menopausal women, one factor that may contribute to sleep disturbances.
More and more studies show that some kind of mindfulness practice can help lower cortisol levels.
It can be as simple as taking a few deep breaths throughout your day, or creating a short and simple mindfulness practice that fits your lifestyle.
One really, really simple exercise to help reduce stress is a Body Scan. It combine focused breathing and body awareness to elicit a relaxation response.
Body Scan Relaxation Technique
- Lie down on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. If you are more comfortable, let your knees touch, like a tripod by placing your feet on the floor, wide enough to let your knees relax and rest against each other. Or, if you tend to deal with back pain, you may start by resting your calves on several cushions (see below) or on the seat of a chair as you lie on the floor.
- Place a small pillow or towel under your head if needed to keep your neck in line with your spine. Your chin should not be aiming toward the ceiling, rather your face should be fairly parallel to the ceiling.
- Place your arms in a comfortable position: by your side or on your torso.
- Take several deep breaths allowing your abdomen to fill with air as you inhale, and exhaling fully. Try counting to 4 for the inhale and the exhale.
- Begin by becoming aware of your head and how it lies on the floor. Check your face and see if you are holding tension in your jaw, mouth, eyes or forehead. Start to scan your body just noting how each body part feels and how it connects to the floor. You don’t need to change position unless it makes you more comfortable. Check your neck, shoulders, arms, hands, ribs, low back, pelvis, legs and feet.
- Return to your breathing and slowly bring your awareness back to your surroundings. Let yourself lie still for a few minutes before getting up.
- Regular practice will produce the greatest benefits.
Try this relaxation body scan and let me know how it goes in the comments below!