“Meditation is the number one time-management tool we have available” – Marianne Williamson
I always think of harvest season as a time to re-evaluate life. For me, the fall is both a chance to “take stock” and an opportunity to do things differently. When I think of how this time of year lends itself to new practices and new habits, I’m excited by the potential to change the ‘feel and function’ of life in my home.
Some very small adjustments can create more calm and peace for my family and this time of year has me searching high and low for ideas.
All this reflection forces me to slow down and breathe when I would otherwise be panicking about all that there is to action, organize, schedule, sign and submit. I’m easily overwhelmed by tasks as my 3 children head back to school and re-enter the organized chaos of extracurricular activities. This year is no different.
What I am about to share will not only change your approach, it promises to harmonize your home-life too. If you adopt this idea with self-compassion, dedication and focused attention on personal priorities, the opportunity to make this upcoming academic year the best EVER is very real.
Stress does 3 things in our body.
First, it creates muscle tension which can lead to stiffness, pain, inflammation, reduced blood flow, tension headaches and poor sleep. Cardiovascular disease (including heart attack and stroke) is the number one killer of Americans and studies are now linking Alzheimer Dementia, Cancer and multiple chronic diseases to reduced vascular flow.
Secondly, this reduced blood flow to the brain leads to changes in cognitive functioning in the pre-frontal cortex. With this calm, caring, insightful part of the brain shut down, executive functions like judgement, problem solving, memory, creativity and compassion are impaired.
As I send kids off to school each day, I rely heavily on my pre-frontal cortex to ensure morning routine goes well, conversations are loving and kind, spelling lists are reviewed and no one gets hurt.
Thirdly, cortisol (aka stress hormone), well known for its ravaging long and short-term health effects, is secreted in massive amounts from the adrenal glands as we are exposed to life’s unavoidable frustrations. When cortisol is high we feel anxious, angry, hungry (with the resultant weight gain associated with chronic stress), hopeless and narrowly focused on problems over solutions.
Stress costs over 300 billion dollars per year in the US through sickness and lost productivity but, despite the proven relationship between stress, health and economics, conventional medicine lacks answers to prevent or treat stress related diseases.
Judging by what I have observed in the office for the last 2 decades, MOST health-related issues, especially for women, are directly or indirectly linked to their stressful lives.
Women have more to do and less time to do it now than ever before. We feed, cloth, guide, mentor, educate and entertain our family and the pressure to do so “perfectly” is unprecedented.
The way I (choose to) see it is that women need one of 3 things: More time, more choice in what lands on the calendar or more capacity to manage everything.
Let’s break it down:
- More time: Not likely to happen! Time is finite and, hard as I try, I can only expand it on occasion when I play with some pretty fun metaphysical exercises. Let’s just say that we have 24 hours in a day and we must spend 8 of those relaxing or sleeping if we want to stay healthy. That leaves 16 hours. Deal with it.
- More control over the schedule: If your family is anything like mine, kids WANT to partake in multiple activities over most days of the week and often in several geographic areas so I’m left negotiating (heavily) about what our family determines to be aligned with our core values. Big discussions ensue, I cave and the calendar overflows. I, for one, could do better learning to say ‘no’. It’s a work in progress but, for now, I don’t want anyone to miss anything and that’s a choice I make willingly. Deal with it.
- More capacity: This is where stress management becomes your greatest ally. When we go through life without full use of our pre-frontal cortex and allow our amygdala to take the wheel, we become cranky, reactive, anxious (sometimes depressed) and continuously in ‘survival-mode’. Things get done but nothing gets done well and there is no joy. Meditation is scientifically proven to improve physiology (lower blood pressure, heart rate, cortisol levels) and allow greater access to the areas of our brain that ensure we can cope, respond lovingly, generate solutions and remain positive.
If you are still unsure of the connection (or the application in YOUR family life), imagine trying to get out the door with 3 kids (or to a work event with your partner) when discussions have been heated, family members are on the defensive, everyone forgot to do their homework and you can’t access the brain sites for calm, compassionate solutions. You WILL be late!
This was often the picture in my house until I realized that I could turn it all around with some very simple steps that, not only elevated my health but morphed me into the parent and partner I feel good about.
So, what is a woman to do? I’ll get back to you, I’m heading to my meditation cushion!