It’s easy to spot those living their life of passion and purpose – they are the ones full of energy, vitality and enthusiasm. They’ve identified what is important to them, what inspires them and this underlays how they live each day. For many of us though, life has lost its lustre and the busyness of everyday and the stress, anxiety and a lack of balance is often an underlying factor. We’ve lost sight of what’s important to us because we are just coping with getting through our days.
To lead a balanced, enriching life we all know that we must eat well and exercise… because both exercise and eating well creates energy and if we don’t have enough energy it becomes a struggle to just get through the day much less live our best life. It is equally important that for energy replenishment and living a purposeful life that we create ‘space’ in our lives… generate times to stop, relax, reflect and reconnect with nature. For most of us therein lies the greatest challenge!
Ghandi once said, “There is more to life than increasing its speed”
If we truly desire optimum health, optimum energy and the desire to live a life of passion and purpose, we need to make a real effort to incorporate strategies that help us slow down, diffuse everyday stresses, be ‘present’ and enjoy life’s moments.
How our Body responds to Stress
The moment the stress response is activated our heart rate speeds up; our blood pressure increases; our respiration quickens; our hormones that help provide immediate energy such as adrenaline, noradrenalin and cortisol are released into the circulatory system; our blood flow is directed away from our digestive system and toward our head for quick thinking and to our arms and legs for the power necessary for ‘fight or flight’. Thus the sympathetic nervous system becomes active and all the body’s metabolic functions are geared directly for survival. This feature of our central nervous system (CNS) has evolved over millions of years into a brilliant safety mechanism that supports us through life-threatening events.
The idea, though, is that once the danger has passed the stress response (sympathetic nervous system) turns off and the body relaxes triggering the parasympathetic nervous system to switch on. In this mode the metabolic functions return to normal. Our heart rate decreases as does our blood pressure; our blood flow is directed back to our digestive processes and our ‘stress hormones’ stop being released so that the body can go back to its regular routine of fighting off viruses, assimilating nutrients and producing energy to enable us to carry out our normal daily activities.
It seems with every new year the pace is picking up a notch and we are becoming ever-more stretched to our very limit… what, with unrealistic work hours and deadlines, increasing societal expectations and family commitments. I see more and more people suffering from physical and mental exhaustion, being teary, overwhelmed, anxious, irritable, suffering from a low libido and lowered mood. Sleep problems are on the rise along with high blood pressure, hot flushes and night sweats. Stimulants such as coffee and sugar are relied upon to keep us going and it seems as a society we’re absolutely exhausted. More often than not our bodies are functioning in sympathetic mode. The result is a compromised digestive system, lowered immunity, low energy and vitality and a general struggle to get through the day. And if we keep operating in the fight or flight mode it may increase our anxiety levels and ultimately the body will become overwhelmed and shut down into depression.
Nature, a Great Antidote for Stress
A widening circle of researchers believes that the loss of natural habitat, or the disconnection from nature even when it is available, has enormous implications for human health. According to Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, ‘nature is often overlooked as a healing balm for the emotional hardships’ in one’s life. He suggests that ‘you’ll likely never see a slick commercial for nature therapy, as you do for the latest antidepressant pharmaceuticals.’ ‘The idea that natural landscapes, or at least gardens, can be therapeutic and restorative is, in fact, an ancient one that has filtered down through the ages. Over two thousand years ago, Chinese Taoists created gardens and greenhouses they believed to be beneficial for health. By 1699, the book English Gardiner advised the reader to spend “spare time in the garden, either digging, setting out, or weeding; there is no better way to preserve your health” (Louv, 2005). And I would think most avid gardeners would still subscribe to this view.
Tim Gill, a child psychologist from the UK on a recent visit to Australia asked the audience to ‘close your eyes and think back to when you were happiest in childhood?’ For most people that happiest memory involved being outside in nature, playing and exploring. It was not a structured activity and more often than not parents or adults were not around.
I think most of us already intrinsically know that when we are meandering in the bush, picnicking at the park, planting in the garden or walking along the beach we are calmer, more connected and more content. With the alarming increase of stress, anxiety and depressive disorders maybe it’s time we consciously schedule more time in nature. The upcoming Easter holidays may be the perfect opportunity to escape for a day or two, and get back into nature and consciously make the decision to replenish your energy stores and take some time to think about, reconnect and clarify what’s really important to you in life. Because it’s only after you’ve taken some time to identify your life’s purpose and what’s important to you that you can live your best life.
Because it’s Not a Rehearsal
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