After my newsletter the start of August, I was really excited to get started with an article series on postpartum care. Life had other plans though - I had some seemingly minor car troubles at the start of the month, and shortly after my car completely died on me on my way out of town to visit my parents in Buffalo, NY. It’s amazing how a single event can initiate such a cascade of tasks. Instead of devoting time (as I usually do) to developing my business and reviewing or studying Chinese Medicine, I went into “emergency mode” to figure out what to do about my personal transportation now that my car was broken down two hours outside of Boston.
I typically have a number of support tools to get me through a stressful event, but being out of town meant that I was unable to utilize all of them. Returning home to Boston gave me a renewed sense of appreciation on just how much those little habits help get me through a stressful time. I’d love to share with you some of the things I do to manage stress when life becomes a little overwhelming.
Clear your schedule:
In general, each day has tasks that absolutely must get done, and other tasks that can be rescheduled for tomorrow, or for next week. For me, I absolutely have to be in the office to be available to do acupuncture treatments at scheduled appointments, and be available by email for questions from patients about care or scheduling. My office has to have clean sheets available and properly supplied with treatment tools like acupuncture needles and cupping oil. It’s a good practice to identify these “essential tasks” so when an emergency hits, you automatically know what needs to be attended to outside of the emergency itself.
After dealing with the immediate fall out of an event (in this case, arranging a tow for my vehicle), I immediately glance over my upcoming schedule. Are there any meetings I can push back or cancel altogether? Is anyone waiting to hear from me about a task I’ll be unable to complete? With smart phones it’s so easy to write out a few quick emails to simply let people know that you’re in temporary crisis mode and will get back to them as soon as you are able - even if you don’t know when that will be. It will also be important to take note of these cancelled or delayed tasks to reconnect with them after you are through with crisis mode to help get back on track and de-stressed.
Eat regular meals:
In the middle of a stressful situation, it may make some kind of sense to “power through” getting tasks done and skip a meal, though this is usually a huge mistake. Not only will you become less efficient as your blood sugar drops (and you become “hangry”) (Edwards, Harvard), extended periods of stress will leave you feeling generally unwell. This may just be a bit of upset stomach or a minor headache, or it could be that you catch the flu or end up being unable to fall asleep, leaving you groggy for the next day. Eating regular meals will help prevent a potential cascade of other physical symptoms, keeping you focused and getting beyond your stressful tasks.
Another common reaction to stress is to have the digestive tract slow down. This may cause increased heartburn, fluctuating appetite, or difficult bowel movements. In addition to eating regularly, you may want to eat foods that are easy on the digestive system such as root vegetables like yams or beets, or grain based porridges for breakfast. Think about foods that would sound nourishing if you were coming down with a cold: soups, stews, or other cooked meals - avoiding raw foods or some of the less healthy comfort foods like sweets or fried foods. Ginger or peppermint may also be really helpful herbs to both calm and regulate the digestive tract. If you’re familiar with your particular symptoms you could also be sure to have on hand things like Smooth Move tea to help you go, or Slippery Elm supplements to ease heartburn.
Nervous System and Immune Support:
This one is best when you know how your body reacts to stress so you can act to manage the symptoms, though there are some things that everyone can do. Stressful situations lower the immune system (APA, 2006) and kick up the stress hormone cortisol. Taking supplements that help support your immune system and nervous system go a long way to keeping you balanced. Consider taking elderberry syrup or an herbal tea blend for immune support as well as zinc and vitamin c. My favorite nervous system supports include blends like Rescue Remedy (available in my clinic) or Wishgarden's Deep Stress Tincture (or Stress Relief Pregnancy - any Wishgarden product can be made available in my clinic per request).
Getting a good night’s rest:
This one is often easier said than done. Certain emergency events pull you away from your regular sleep schedule, other times you’re simply too busy figuring out the next step to resolve the situation to let your mind fall asleep. Stress hormones also directly affect quality of sleep
(Bush and Hudson, 2010). Try to set aside at least a half an hour before bed to simply wind down with a cup of tea or a book. This “unproductive” 30 minutes will turn into a much more productive tomorrow. The relaxation blends mentioned above: Rescue Remedy or Deep Stress will also help calm your mind. If you need a little more help winding down, gentle sleep aids may be helpful, like Sleepy Nights Tincture (or Sleepy Nights Pregnancy) by Wishgarden.
After the event or for extended stressful events:
By now it won’t be much of a surprise that I also recommend acupuncture. Acupuncture can help regulate the nervous system or any other symptoms that have popped up from stress, allowing you to regain balance after the event or through an extended stressful event such as caring for an elderly parent or sick family member. Acupuncture certainly isn’t the only answer as a lot of support can be found in a therapeutic massage or through talk therapy. Find the treatment that is your go-to support. Everyone is different, so find the treatment that gives you the most benefit.