A long time ago, humanity faced a big problem.
The Earth was different back then, more unpredictable, and danger lurked everywhere. In a world where every bug bite, thunderstorm, and wild animal could kill you in an instant, how does a species survive?
We may be at the top of the food chain now, but it’s not because of our strength or speed or any other physical attribute for that matter. We rank pretty low on the scale of physical prowess when you take the entire animal kingdom into account.
No, our power lies in our intellect, and the specific ways the human brain has evolved to adapt to its environment. When death was always so close at hand, we needed a better way to stay alive. As a result, we evolved a stress response as a way to quickly prime the body to react to danger.
Now, in an instant, adrenaline courses through our veins. Our hearts pump harder sending blood to the muscles in our arms and legs. Suddenly we can run faster, hit harder, and think more clearly. All non-pertinent bodily functions shut down so all available energy can be diverted to facing the crisis at hand. Needless to say, our chances of survival have improved dramatically.
Today, we no longer face the environmental threats that our ancestors once did, but the stress response remains. In small doses, stress isn’t a problem. In fact, it’s actually a good thing. It provides us with novelty, challenges, and opportunities for growth. But there’s a fine line, and once you cross it, your stress no longer serves you. It can become a problem.
Chronic stress has a profoundly negative effect on our health and for someone living with a chronic illness, it can have dire consequences. It also happens to be one of the most common triggers of Meniere’s disease symptoms.
It’s important to try to eliminate stress whenever possible, and strangely enough, children happen to be great role models. We can learn a thing or two, and reduce our stress in the process, by following in their little footsteps.
The Importance of Play:
“A lack of play should be treated like malnutrition: it’s a health risk to your body and mind.”
— Stuart Brown
If there is one thing that children consistently do better than adults, it’s play. It just comes naturally to them. It’s like somewhere along the way we forgot how to have fun. And I’m not talking about the “normal” things adults tend to do for fun like going out to dinner, coffee, and the movies.
I was a kid in the earliest days of the internet, long before mobile devices would come to dominate our lives. For years, I would get together with the kids in my neighborhood and play outside. We would hang out and explore, ride bikes, play tag, and tell jokes. We were rarely bored, and would play together for hours. When I was a kid I knew how to have fun. I miss that.
But as adults, play is still important on so many levels. It is a powerful reliever of stress. It gives us the social interaction we all so desperately crave. And it brings us to the present moment, offering a pure enjoyment that we rarely seem to find in adult life.
Play doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, either. If you can add some sort of physical movement, or exercise into the mix, even better. Try going for a nice long walk with a good friend or loved one. Play a game of catch or throw around a Frisbee. Hang out at the beach or the pool or the park. Even getting together with your friends to play board games can be a great change of pace. You can use a service like Meetup to meet new people who share your interests.
No matter how severe your symptoms are, there is a way to add play into your life. You can make this change, right now, and start benefitting immediately.
The Stress Relieving Power of Coloring:
Over the last few years, a strange and wonderful, though unexpected, kind of book has become a new literary trend the likes of which have never been seen before in publishing. It may be hard to believe, but Coloring books designed for adults, are selling like crazy.
As I write this, out of the top twenty books on Amazon.com, six are coloring books for adults. Earlier this year, adult coloring books held the number one and number two spots for all of Amazon.
If you have never heard of the phenomenon before now, you are probably wondering what it’s all about. Well, according to the Washington Post, it boils down to stress relief.
“The best theory offered to date is that best-selling adult coloring books such as “Secret Garden” and “Enchanted Forest” are all about easing stress and calming one’s inner child. From this perspective, coloring is all about regaining mindfulness and getting a digital detox. And, indeed, the best-selling Scottish illustrator and “ink evangelist” behind these books, Johanna Basford, recently told The Guardian: “I think it is really relaxing, to do something analogue, to unplug … Coloring books are also an easy way to flex our creative muscles in a way we likely haven’t since our good old paste-eating elementary school days.””
The coloring books for adults differ from children’s coloring books in one very important way: intricacy. The elaborate patterns and illustrations found in adult coloring books can take hours to fill in. The act of coloring such complex designs requires a level of concentration that effectively quiets the mind, but not so much that it can lead to fatigue or frustration.
I find it to be an incredibly relaxing practice and when I’m feeling stressed, it helps to take the edge off. And for literally millions of people, it has become a relaxing, creative, and therapeutic hobby.
There are now hundreds of different adult coloring books on the market, many of which only cost between $5 and $10. If you would like to give it a try, here is a list of the best-selling adult coloring books on Amazon.
Disconnect from your Tech:
In today’s increasingly interconnected world, smartphones have come to rule our attention.
According to a recent Gallup pole, in the United States, 52% of smartphone users report checking their phones at least several times an hour. 11% report checking their phone every few minutes. And that’s just the average. It’s much higher with the younger demographic. In my opinion, however, the most startling find was that 81% of smartphone owners keep their phones near them at all times.
We seem to be more addicted to our phones and tablets than ever before. The constant flow of information can become a problem and real source of stress. But it’s not all bad. As hard as it may seem, we can disconnect, and we don’t have to leave our devices at home to get the benefits.
A few months back, I went on a weekend trip with my fiancée Megan to Sanibel Island on the west coast of Florida. If you’ve never been, it’s a beautiful tiny island and a wonderful place to relax. There are giant seashells all over the pristine white sand beaches, streets lined with mom-and-pop shops and locally-owned restaurants. It’s the perfect weekend getaway.
Now I personally fall into the category of “checks his phone several times an hour” and I know it’s a problem. So on this trip, and for the first time ever, I decided to turn my phone off and just enjoy the nature. We spent time on beach, explored the little island, and really connected with each other.
In a lot of ways, it was incredibly liberating. I felt very grounded, relaxed, and when the trip was over, I felt deeply recharged. I have since made it a priority to turn my phone off every once in a while and be present with whatever I’m doing.
I encourage you to give it a try. The next time you plan to be out in nature, turn off your phone. Keep it with you in case of an emergency, but otherwise leave it off. You will be shocked to find how good it feels.
Managing stress is such an important part of managing illness. We are bombarded by stimuli, constantly, in a way our ancestors could never have imagined.
But when we stop for a moment and approach the world like a child, we can really make a difference in our stress levels. We can find more enjoyment in our lives, too.