F. Afua Bromley, L.Ac, MSOM, Dipl.Ac
What is Stress?
Stress is a reaction your body experiences as a result of a demanding circumstance or event. Stress inherently isn’t a bad thing and is a normal part of life. Specifically, a stress reaction causes your nervous system to produce hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) and results in quickened breathing, a faster heartbeat, tightening muscles and even a sudden burst of energy. It is what can quickly get you moving if you sense danger, or give you the adrenaline rush when you are anticipating a event such as seeing a loved one you haven’t seen.
Long term stress can be very detrimental to your health. Toxic relationships, financial insecurity, violent environments, environmental toxins, overwork, and even systemic and institutional racism can take their toll physically, spiritually and mentally. Negative Effects include:
- Lowers immunity
- Increases risk of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, depression, anxiety, gastro-intestinal ailments (reflux, irritable bowel syndrome), insomnia, headaches/migraines
- Increases muscular tension and pain including back and neck pain
- Decreases rate of healing
- Some evidence relating cancer to long-term stress
- Decreases absorption of nutrients in food and decreases metabolism of food (increasing weight gain due to cortisol production from the kidneys)
HOW Do we Deal with Stressful Situations or long-term stressors?
Two basic questions:
- Can I change the situation?
- Can I change my attitude towards the situation?
The 4 A’s
Stress Relief “Toolkit”
- Acupuncture and massage are well-noted for their effectiveness for stress reductions(see acupressure handout)
- Essential Oils
- Herbal therapies: from everyday teas to more complex Chinese herbal formulas, teas can also help you deal with stress, or any of its side effects
- Meditation (basic breathing techniques)
- Exercise/Movement (yoga, tai chi, walking)
- Art or music therapies or using other creative outlets
Essential Oils have been used for more than 5000 years (since ancient Egyptian times) for a wide variety of reasons. The power of essential oils lies in the effectiveness of our sense of smell. Scents, even very subtle ones, can trigger powerful emotional, memories and physical responses. Some essential oils are stimulating, others are calming, and still others are aphrodisiacs. The following essential oils have specific calming properties:
Chamomile, lavender, sandalwood, ylang ylang, Melissa, sweet basil, geranium, neroli, rose
Essential oils are generally diluted either with a carrier oil (such as almond oil, sesame or grapeseed oil) or can be added to baths, lotions, body powders, or satchets. For baths, add 10-20 drops of essential oil directly into the water. For massage creams, oils, and lotions, add 10-20 drops of essential oil per 2 fluid ounces of carrier. These can be found inexpensively now at local retail or even discount stores.
Herbal therapies have been used by every culture in the world for a variety of treatments. Some common herbal stress-relieving teas are:
- Chamomile (flower head): one teaspoon per 1 cup of water; mild sleep aid
- Lavender (flower head): one dry teaspoon per 1 cup of water; mild sleep aid
- Passionflower (flower head): one teaspoon per 1 cup of water; mild sleep aid
- Valerian root: one teaspoon per cup of water; strong sleep aid
- Peppermint: one tablespoon per cup of water; non-drowsy
- Lemon balm: one tablespoon per cup of water; non-drowsy
- Chrysanthemum: one tablespoon per cup of water; non-drowsy
Your Mental Health
Prevention and maintenance is crucial to maintaining good mental health. Unmanaged stress is the most common cause of severe mental health crisis. Find simple ways to manage stress: meditation, journaling, Tai Chi, Yoga, Prayer, proper sleep habits, counseling, time management, walks in nature, acupuncture, massage, reiki, and constructive conversations with friends. Seek professional help when needed. And yes, personality disorders/ schizophrenia, depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges do occur within the African/African-American community.
Your Spiritual Health
Whether or not you believe in a higher
power or subscribe to a particular religious denomination, how you frame the
world/universe and your role in it is important. Answering the question, why am I here? Where
am I going? What role do I play in the larger context? All of these are important in that they give
us a purpose and reason for being alive.
It also helps to prioritize those things that are most important to you
and can give you a focus to manage where your energies go to.
8 SIMPLE RULES TO LIVE BY
- Eat mostly vegetables and fruit. Whole grains (but not too much). Healthy fats (but not too much). If you eat meat, eat as cleanly as possible (no hormones or preservatives). Eat whole food – little to no processed foods. Don’t eat too much.
- Drink mostly water or non-caffeinated herbal tea.
- Get enough rest (7+ hours/night) and relaxation. Meditate/pray/reflect
- Exercise daily. Walking is free.
- Laugh often and keep a positive attitude. Find the joy or the silver lining
- Be flexible and keep an open mind. Life happens – not everything will go as planned – jobs, relationships can go up and down, health issues, financial woes (or successes). Being adaptable helps keep things in perspective and reduces stress.
- Learn something new every day. A new word, a neighbor’s name, a yoga pose, a growing up story from an older relative, a new book, etc. Engage and challenge yourself mentally. Hard to think about when you are learning a lot in school,
- Develop and maintain healthy relationships. Those who live the longest with the best quality of life have good relationships and support systems. Family/friends/community. All healthy relationships may involve some conflict at different times – learn to argue or disagree in healthy ways. Toxic or co-dependent relationships should be either avoided or managed with clear boundaries.