Based on the number of times I’ve heard “treat yourself” or “live your best life “recently, it seems like people are really focused on inner happiness these days. While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying that 600-calorie Venti Frappuccino with double whip every once in a while, I think sometimes we all forget that there are much healthier ways to handle stress.
Mental wellness tends to get lost in the other demands of everyday life. We’re consumed by our work projects, mowing the lawn, walking the dog, being a good spouse or partner, baking peanut free/gluten free/sugar free/dairy free cupcakes for a kid’s school party (seriously, what are cupcakes even made of anymore?), that we forget about ourselves until we need justification to eat a whole pizza. This kind of reasoning is something I fall back on constantly. “I was extra stressed today, so I deserve to eat my weight in cookie dough ice cream and maybe that will make it better.” Sounds pretty logical, right? There’s nothing wrong with the occasional splurge, but if you’re looking for a more productive way to handle your stress I have some good news.
As someone who struggled for years with poor stress management skills, I am here to tell you that yoga, meditation, or some combination of both can be a huge game changer. Stress is awful for our bodies. It can lead to anxiety and depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, and a multitude of other health conditions.
After practicing for an hour, I can feel a noticeable difference in my mood and mindset. After prolonged practice, several times a week for several months, I have noticed a significant difference in the way I handle inner conflict and address stressful situations. If you have the opportunity to try a hot yoga style like Bikram or Baptiste, even better. Sweating helps to release the hormones and chemicals that our bodies produce during the flight or fight response, which is usually triggered during times of high stress.
A huge part of any yoga practice is controlled breathing. Practicing these breathing exercises can help you achieve and maintain calmness, even under stress or when you’re anxious. Meditation may sound intimidating if you’ve never tried it, but there are so many tools available to get you started. Apps like Headspace and Insight Timer provide guided meditation experiences for all levels.
Beyond the physiological impact that yoga has on mental wellness, it teaches acceptance, patience, perseverance, and gratitude. It might not seem like it, but if you’ve ever been in frog pose for a solid five minutes, you know what I’m talking about. Yoga and meditation are all about accepting what is, looking past it, and being grateful for what you have.
Give it a shot and drop in to a local studio or download a yoga app like Down Dog to practice at home for free. That speech they give every time you get on a plane is pretty accurate – always put your own oxygen mask on first, because if you can’t breathe, you can’t help others. If you don’t spend time focusing on yourself first, you won’t be very effective at doing anything else.