Your Vital Edge: The Grateful Heart: Gratitude is the Best Stress Reliever

Got Stress? Who doesn’t?

This time of year, when all of Nature rests, we speed up our lives and stress our minds and bodies. We are all under an almost constant stress load. The state of the global economy, the global climate change, what they are doing in Washington, London or – well you pick it – gives a global background to the more immediate, in-your-face stressors in our daily everyday life: economic pressures, relationship challenges, issues at work, job cuts, downsizing, housing, and concern for the kids or the parents. As the Holiday Season picks up steam, the stress loads become intolerable. The perception of stress causes bio-chemical changes in our body. It creates mental tension. It reduces physical strength and flexibility and causes pain.

The constant grind of incessant, background stress alters our health and wellbeing. There is not a pill, powder, potion or lotion that will get rid of stress. Although people try for relief of stress in unhealthy ways (alcohol, drugs, self-destructive behavior), it’s all an attempt to feel better by reducing the effects of stress.

Stress just is. It is a fact of life. There are always going to be situations that we perceive as stressful. The fascinating thing is that we can all experience different levels of stress during the same or similar events. When there is physical danger, responses are much the same. Our bodies evolved the stress response to handle immediate challenges to our safety. Stress can be a good thing. We have to be alert and move quickly when there is immediate danger.

Stress gets murky and unhealthy when the stressor is not direct immediate physical danger. An event that might paralyze one person may be the joy-filled life dream of another: speaking in public, for example.

Stress that continues to affect us over weeks, months or years is detrimental and harms more than helps. Destructive stress comes from an internal perceived notion that sees specific situations, actions or events past or present and judges them to be good or bad NOW. Actually, the event just is (or was) and how we feel about it is an internal judgment. It could be a wedding or a funeral; it could be the family gathering for the Holidays; it could be the fact that no one invited you to a gathering; the body experiences the stress and the mind judges it to be good or bad. The mind gets into trouble when it has a difficult time letting go of past stresses, collects them and relives them over and over – a very damaging hobby. Take up stamp collecting; it is not so self-destructive.

There are many ways that are effective in modulating or relieving stress. We can reduce the bio-chemical changes in our bodies with drugs; a better way is with nutrition. Eat better. Eat less sugar. Also exercise – action – is a fantastic stress reliever. Take a walk. Sing. Dance. Or all three together. Use imagery and perception techniques to reduce mental stress. However, by far and away, the most impressive stress reliever is a way of living. Find in your heart the attitude of gratitude.

All spiritual paths practice and observe the connectedness of a good spirit with wholeness (holiness). There are many sources of insightful and inspirational literature and links that speak to this central concept of the power of attitude and perception. It comes from within and it is an essential ingredient to a person’s experience. Without it we can get most other things ‘right’ but we will not be whole. The grateful heart is a spiritual and a practical lifestyle. It may be good to think and feel this experience during stressful times like the Holidays, but wouldn’t it be more beneficial to utilize this defense against stress as a way of living?

Prayer, meditation, introspective thought – whatever you want to call it – resets the nervous system from Fight or Flight to Restorative mode. (Catabolic to anabolic for you physiologists) from tear-down alert vigilance to build-up relaxed repair mode.

There is definite physiologic reason to say ‘Grace’ before meals. Grace is a prayer, if you will, but it is also a brief moment when you pause and appreciate and give thanks. This act of changing your mental state changes your emotional and physical state as well. It resets your digestive system to receive food and absorb it (sympathetic nervous system inhibition and para-sympathetic nervous system activation for you physiology geeks.) When you are in an agitated state, digestion shuts down and food isn’t used. It is stored as fat. Whatever food nutritive value can be garnered from what you gulped down is halved, at best. The other half is added to unwanted fat storage. Grace will also reduce emotional tension, depression, anxiety when you pause to feel the appreciation that is available to us in every moment of our lives.

Blessing what is in your life reduces the effects of stress. Blessing food or whatever is in your life is not an empty gesture, but an aligning process to focus awareness on attracting more of the same energy into your experience. Most people say ‘grace’ automatically if they stop for a second before eating unconsciously with unconscious results. Bless your food consciously, Bless not just for food, but say Grace for everything you receive. Your awareness is now on attracting similar energy into your experience. It is an essential element to optimal health, wealth and leadership.
I start every day with this thought.

“I am grateful for what I have and I am given what I bless.”