Sunday, November 28, 2010

Holiday Stress and Yoga

In keeping with our new roles as lecture attendees and note takers we have some notes from a recent Lecture we attended at the Hamilton Spectator.

Unfortunately the attendance at this excellent lecture was low but it didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the speakers Dr Karen Rowa and Nina Lewin.

The first speaker was Dr Karen Rowa Clinical Psychologist for St Josephs HealthCare.

Dr Rowa began her lecture by emphasizing that we all experience stress during the holiday season. The difference between those who move through it with grace and those who become broken, bitter and miserable has a lot to do with the strategies we employ.

She mentioned several strategies that she expanded upon. Relaxation, Self Talk, Challenging Expectations, Simplifying, and Saying No.

Relaxation, well what can we say, she started out by stating that how we breathe will influence our state of mind. Poor, shallow chest breathing increases fatigue, creates headaches, muscle tension and anxiety. During times of heightened stress stop just for a moment and take a deep breath in and let out a long, slow sigh and notice right away how effective breathing can be for relieving stress. Going further, learning to draw deeply into the belly will allow the diaphragm to expand the abdomen. This type of breathing has been proven again and again to counter the effects of stress as well as help deal with the onslaught of issues with a more level head.

Negative Self Talk is that running commentary in your head. Most of us have that ongoing voice that is the narrator of our days. But what we may not realize is that the voice has slowly and subtly implanted a negative slant on us and our world. "That was stupid", "I better not screw up the Turkey like I usually do", or "I will never be able to make it, it is just too much". All of these lines keep getting repeated over and over while they wear us down. Dr Rowa suggested that when these thoughts start to spell out doom and gloom try this:
  1. Question the story.
  2. Write down the facts and the evidence.
  3. Ask "What is the worst that can happen?"
  4. Try looking at the situation with a different outcome.
By shaking up that commentary and exposing it for what it is we can break free from its destructive cycle.

Expectations. Things we believe need to happen.
Everything needs to be perfect when Mom and Dad visit. I only buy the very best presents for my family. I have to visit everyone over the holidays. There has to be a lot of presents. I can't have a budget at this time of year. Every Christmas Card has to have a personal letter with it. I have to host a Party.

It is very important to stare these ideas down and challenge them. Questions like "What is most important here?", "What can I reasonably manage?", "Is something better than nothing?", or "Do I really have to say Yes?". These questions can't be answered with a knee jerk reaction, really look at where you are answering from to ensure that the answer is honest. It can be quite a liberating process.

Of course when Dr. Rowa came to Lifestyle choices we were pleased to see that she had a great list.
Exercise - Proper Diet - Adequate Sleep - Quiet Time - Simple Pleasure - Yoga / Meditation.
We spoke to her afterward about the interesting fact that she separated Exercise and Yoga. She said that she always felt that they were not the same thing. Sandy and I both agree with this although it is still a difficult thing to explain. We had discussed this very same thing with seasoned Toronto Yoga teacher Monica Voss and she also found it hard to turn into words. But I digress.
Taking some time to do some simple time management, clarify your goals and values, set a realistic plan, and actually follow through with it will make the season much more rewarding.

The lecture ended with Some Tips for saying No!
  • Set your boundaries and limits early and honour them.
  • Pick your battles carefully.
  • Strike while the iron is cool. Saying things in the heat of the moment leads to regret.
  • Keep it simple. Say no and don't embellish about why or how.
  • Don't over apologize. Respect your own right not to agree.
  • Take time to make a decision. If someone asks you to volunteer remember these 5 magic words "I will let you know".
The thing with stress is that most things just happen the way they do and we either feel obligated to comply or make up a constant story about how rotten it is. Make sure you examine where these things are coming from. You may still have a wonderful and busy holiday season but by taking some control of it there will still be some of you left in January.

I will have to write about Nina's lecture later, I had to examine my expectation to finish this entire blog in one sitting :)