What Everybody Ought to Know About Stress

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Traditionally I haven’t paid a lot of attention to the signals my body sends me. That’s beginning to change.

Last spring right before a big speaking event, my jaw started to hurt, causing headaches and weird popping sounds when I chewed or opened too wide.

At the beginning of this summer I had a lot of deadlines and decisions pile up into one week. I thought I was cool with it all, but as I drifted off to sleep one night, my heartbeat woke me up because it was beating so hard I thought surely John could hear it too.

Then last week, while the kids were at Grandy Camp with my parents, I hurt my back by doing a super risky move – getting up from my sofa. One minute it was fine, but as soon as I moved to stand up, I felt a weird pain in my left side lower back.

I’ve already bored myself telling you the details.

(The other day after explaining my injury to John for the tenth time and having him not once roll his eyes or try to slip out of the room in disguise, I realized that the proof of true love is if someone will 1. Listen as you describe that dream you had last night and 2. Allow you to explain your minor injuries to them again.)

(Seriously though, when someone begins a sentence with “I have to tell you about this dream I had last night!” my eyes roll into the back of my head and my whole body goes limp with boredom and apathy. I digress.)

I consider myself to be fairly limber and medium-ly active. I go to a yoga class several times a week, walk/jog in the neighborhood when it’s not too hot and you know, go up and down our stairs tens of times during the day. I even went to my first kickboxing class a couple of weeks ago.

Still, the sofa betrayed me and caused several days of discomfort. It was’t debilitating, just annoying. So at my next yoga class I pay extra attention to that spot on my back, careful not to make it worse.

Radiance Yoga

As we begin to stretch at the beginning, our instructor tells us to pay attention to how the rest of our body reacts as we hold a pose, especially if it is a challenging one.

Her words make instant sense to me. We tend to compensate when under pressure, the body responding in fear because it thinks it’s in danger. We hold a low lunge and I know I’m going to die because that’s what happens when you hold a low lunge. As she reminds us again to notice how the rest of our bodies react, I realize I’m clenching my jaw and feel my shoulders creeping up to my ears.

She invites us to offer breath to those tense places and I instantly sense the smallest shift in the pose – a lifting of expectation and simultaneously, a feeling of ease. She explains how deep breathing relaxes the central nervous system and sends the body a message, You’re going to be okay.

Sunflower

I don’t always remember to connect my life circumstance with my bodily reactions. But the Lord created us as one complete person, not fragmented out. There is no impenetrable wall between our body, soul, and spirit. All of these different, sacred parts of us form the whole – In him all things hold together.

The strange thing is that I actually feel fairly relaxed these days. On the outside, I’m not freaking out or overly concerned with outcomes. But my body is telling me that anxiety is flowing just below the surface, like fast-moving water beneath a smooth sheet of ice.

As someone who tends to think and overthink and just when I’m finished thinking I think some more, I’m learning to pay attention to my body and, surprsingly even those ridiculous dreams.

My mind is important, but it isn’t always the most trustworthy narrator of the truth.

Sometimes the feeling I get in my dreams is more accurate than the story I’m trying to convince myself is true while I’m awake. And before I dismiss it as ridiculous, perhaps I could take a little time to listen.

Are you dreaming of your teeth falling out, forgetting math homework, needing to be somewhere but you can’t find directions? Have you missed the bus in your dreams, forgotten to put on pants, or can’t remember your locker combination?

Maybe now is a good time to consider what your body has to teach you and listen for the voice of God beneath the surface of those crazy dreams.

Maybe you are feeling the stretch of a difficult circumstance and your instinct is to tighten up, manage outcomes, and try to maintain control.

Maybe you’re mind is telling you everything is fine, fine, fine, but your body and your dreams are weaving a different tale.

Is your body trying to tell you something? Are your dreams whispering small truths about the state of your soul?

I hear the invitation to send deep breath to those tight, fearful places, both the ones in my body and the ones in my soul.

It’s possible to feel the tension without compromising my intention – love, trust, and gratitude. But it requires acknowledging the pain, becoming aware of God’s presence with me and within me, and releasing outcomes into his capable hands.

If you are holding tension in your body and soul these days, I can relate. I’ve prepared a free four-day video series just for you, practical steps to help create a little space for your soul to breathe based on my new book, Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World. Watch the first video right here and sign up to receive the rest in your inbox.

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When Your Soul Feels Held Hostage by Hustle

Simply Tuesday

If it ever feels like the fast-moving world is not only rushing around you but also within you, I have something I hope might help. For the last few months we’ve been working hard behind the scenes to make a short video series to help you create space for your soul to breathe.

Today it’s live and ready for you at SimplyTuesday.com. See you there!

Because June is as Good as January for Setting an Intention

Hopefully everything you read here will help to create space for your soul to breathe, no matter if I write it or if I invite someone else in. That’s why I’m happy to welcome Claire Diaz-Ortiz to the blog today. I love Claire’s gentle reminder that you don’t have to wait until January to be intentional about your life. Here’s one simple way to do that today.

Like most of us, I want to be happier. Whether it’s waking up with more spark or going to bed more satisfied with my day, I want to open my life to the opportunity for greater joy.

As such, I love to read books about happiness. Gretchen Rubin has written a few of those, and in one of them she recommends a small, powerful idea that has taken hold to become a big, strong force in my own life.

The Importance of Setting an Intention

That idea is to choose a word each and every year that represents the year you have in front of you. Rather, to choose a word for your year. (Oh, and take a cue from Gretchen: years don’t need to start in January.)

Choose one single word that imbues the type of year you wish to have, one word that can serve as a guidepost for what you want in the season to come. A singular word you can always harken back to in moments of darkness and doubt. One word that informs your decisions, crystalizes your passions and priorities, and embodies you—the new you!—in the months ahead.

Depending on the type of year you seek, there are many words that can do the trick. Words like Move, Pause, Breathe, Dance, Less, Family, Health, Travel, and Choose all hold a certain special sauce.

The guidelines are simple. The word can be a verb or a noun. It can be a long word or a short word. But it is key that the word brings together everything you fervently hope to live and breathe in the year to come. One word to inform and synthesize the year you have ahead of you. One word to mean everything you want the year to be, and one word that will help serve as a guiding light when times get tough and you’re not clear on where your priorities are.

A few years ago, my word of the year was Rest.

It was a word that meant the world to me in that season of my life. I was harried and overwhelmed from a few too many years of corporate globetrotting, and I needed a daily reminder to do less. And so I did.

Although my Rest might not have been as restful as the Rest that some might be able to enjoy (I saw nary a beach that entire year), my word still served as a key force in getting me to slow down. It helped me to make decisions, and to keep in mind what was really important when difficult choices arose.

Should I go to that social event—or stay home? Should I say yes to what could be a great opportunity, or pass it up to wait for something better to come along? Should I travel to that work meeting—or call into it instead?

When life and work calls for us to be busy, it is hard to slow down. However, by attempting to make this word forefront in my mind, I sought to make small strides that would lead to notable changes and positive transformation. I knew I wouldn’t be perfect. I knew I would never get it 100 percent. But I did know that by setting the intention, I could make some progress.

In the end, I did. And you can, too. Set a word now, and watch your year rise up to take shape around it.

51be5Z-MwOLClaire Diaz-Ortiz is an author, speaker and Silicon Valley innovator who was an early employee at Twitter. Named one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company, she holds an MBA and other degrees from Stanford and Oxford and has been featured widely in print and broadcast media.

She writes a popular blog at ClaireDiazOrtiz.com and is the author of several books. The above is an excerpt from her latest book, The Better Life: Small Things You Can Do Right Where You Are.
 

The Rest of the Body // A Guest Post by Tara M. Owens

It’s my pleasure today to welcome my new friend, Tara Owens, to the blog. I met Tara in California back in January and felt instantly at ease in her presence. You’ll soon see why.

Since I recently had another birthday, I’ve been thinking a lot about the changes I’m noticing in my body, some I haven’t looked too kindly upon. Today, Tara’s words are, for me, a gentle invitation – one I think we all might need – to begin to listen to and embrace our bodies in a way we may not have done before. Let her words be a gift.

It’s the end of a long week. A week of appointments and disappointments, of driving here and there with my little one. A week of coughs and colds, and of deadlines whooshing by at top speed. It’s easy enough to say my soul is tired.

Embracing the Body by Tara M. Owens

Why is it so hard to say my body is, too?

It’s funny, I think, that as believers we’re allowed to be soul-weary before we’re allowed to be bone-weary. That we privilege our emotions and our thoughts over our aching feet and heavy-lidded eyes.

I know I come by that bias honestly. Ever since coming to Christ I’ve been aware of how important it is to renew my mind, to take every thought captive, to develop the fruit of the Spirit. These things matter, and they matter deeply in the life of faith. Romans 12 is foundational to my life with God, and learning the life of Christ has come from letting the truth of His Word seep into my soul.

That’s why I was so surprised that I’d never read, never really read, the beginning of that chapter.

Yes, Romans 12 talks about renewing my mind, being transformed. But at the very beginning, the place where Paul deeply beseeches us (as it says in the New King James Version), is a verse about our bodies, my body. About giving that body to God as a living sacrifice. It’s about being willing to let go of my control of my fingers and heart, my soft tummy and even my unruly hair. It’s about being willing to give complete dominion over to God, to let go of how I want to control how I look or how much I weigh or even how much sleep I get.

What surprised me even more, as I sat with that verse, is that God asks me to give myself to Him as a living sacrifice—something new and different. Every other sacrifice, Jesus included, was to be killed, blood spilled on the altar. But because of Jesus, a new type of sacrifice can be made to God.

This time, it’s a living one. A living, breathing, sweating, crying, laughing one.

So, I wondered, what would happen if I really, really believed that? If I wasn’t afraid of giving my body to God, worried about what He might do with it? What if I risked, trusted the heart of the Father enough to give Him what He was gently asking of me?

You know what He gave me?

He gave me rest.

I shouldn’t be surprised by this, I know. It’s the first thing that Psalm 23 says is true of the Good Shepherd—He makes me lie down in green pastures.

But I’m so used to pushing and running and enslaving my body to things like productivity or performance, I didn’t expect God to tell me to pay attention to the aches. I didn’t expect God to tenderly take this worn and worried woman off the altar and show me that tension I’ve been carrying around in my shoulders were a message from Him I’m lifting burdens He’s meant to carry. I didn’t expect the God of the universe to tell me that giving those burdens to Him meant taking a nap when all I could see what my to-do list.

Here’s the thing: giving God my body, risking that with Him, freed me to listen to His murmurs through my muscles, His blessings through my bones.

What might it look like if you took that risk today, too? If you took a moment to give, really give, your body to Him—because it is fearfully and wonderfully made, just as it is—as a living sacrifice. If you risked it, what messages might you hear? What it’s an invitation to real rest, and to the rest of the body? The rest of God?

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Tara M. OwensTara M. Owens is the author of Embracing the Body: Finding God in Our Flesh and Bone published by InterVarsity Press in March 2015.

She’s a spiritual director and supervisor with Anam Cara Ministries, and the senior editor of Conversations Journal. She lives in Colorado with her husband, Bryan, their daughter, Seren, and their rescue dog, Hullabaloo.

She loves Dr. Who, red velvet cupcakes, and Jesus, not necessarily in that order.