The other day my friend and colleague Dr. Sara Gottfried shared a favorite iPhone app with her community (even if you don't have an iPhone, there's still information here that will help you manage stress, so read to the end).
It's called GPS for the Soul (GPS4Soul) and it builds on HeartMath biofeedback technology designed to manage emotions and stress levels (for the record, I have no association with HeartMath whatsoever and no other motivation for writing about this other than I think it's really cool). There's no cost to download it.
As I've mentioned in other posts, last month I attended a fantastic course at Harvard's Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine. Management of the stress response and down-regulation of the amygdala's stress/fear center was a major focus of their content, and I came to understand much more deeply how stress impacts a person's brain, health, and life.
There are lots of general things we can do to decrease stress levels and reduce overall tension, such as getting enough sleep, exercising, thinking positively, and meditating, but that's not necessarily enough to modulate the impact of stressors throughout the day. I do all of the things I just listed, but I've come to realize that despite my good habits I still experience a significant amount of stress, particularly during my workday.
The app uses the flash and camera lens on your phone to measure heart rate variability from your index finger, and in turn tells you how stressed or balanced you are. My husband first thought this was both ridiculous and impossible, but the readings I get are strikingly consistent with how I feel.
Stress doesn't necessarily have to come from doing or being exposed to things you don't like - I've discovered that after I write a blog post my stress levels are way up. I love writing, and writing about things that I love, but it appears that the intense concentration involved in the process induces tension in my body. I didn't really realize it until now. The app alerted me to this, and upon reflection I've found it to be accurate. I now make sure I take a break after writing, and if possible I do some yoga or take my dog out for a walk.
It's important to develop an awareness of when you're stressed so that you can actively counteract it when it's happening. Stress affects pretty much every system in your body, making you irritable and moody, dampening the effectiveness of your immune system, raising your blood sugar, affecting your memory, aging you more quickly, raising your blood pressure, on and on it goes. It's important to do whatever you can to moderate it throughout the day.
The experts from the Mind-Body Institute emphasized the importance of doing "minis", or mini relaxation breaks. This can be done by stopping any time to take several deep breaths (I often do this when put on hold on the phone, or waiting for my computer to load something), or by doing actual mini meditations.
The latter are my very favorite part of the GPS4Soul app. There is a delightful menu of "Guides", short guided meditations with beautiful images, uplifting words and soothing images. These are combined with a breath guide that remind you to breathe deeply in a way that optimally reduces stress. I absolutely love these, and do them while working or even when waiting in the car while my husband has popped into a store to do an errand.
I'm sorry if you don't have an iPhone, as at this time this app is only available to iPhone users. Regardless, I wanted to share some affirmations from one of my favorite Guides: 12 Things You Deserve to Hear by Gen Y coach Christine Hassler. Read through this list, breathe each phrase in individually and let yourself feel the truth behind these statements:
You are smart.
You are talented.
You are kind.
You are beautiful.
You are capable.
You can do it.
You can let go.
Have a lovely day, and remember to stop and breathe when you feel that stress mounting.
Dr. Susan Biali, M.D. is a medical doctor, health and happiness expert, life and health coach, professional speaker, flamenco dancer, and the author of Live a Life You Love: 7 Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You, dedicated to helping people worldwide get healthy, find happiness and enjoy more meaningful lives that they love. Dr. Biali is available for keynote presentations, workshops/retreats, media commentary, and private life and health coaching—contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.susanbiali.com for more details.
Copyright Dr. Susan Biali, M.D. 2013