Thursday, November 4, 2021

Soul Sustenance: Women and Stress

Stress is a feminist issue—and no one is more stressed than moms during this pandemic, according to Dr. Michele Kambolisn a mind-body health specialist, registered therapist, meditation teacher, and an acclaimed author and speaker who has been practicing for more than 20 years. She is the author of When Women Rise: Everyday Practices to Strengthen Your Mind, Body, and Soul.

“In the last few years I have had hundreds of deep-dive discussions with mothers about the things that matter most to them,” says Dr. Kambolis. “I’ve witnessed a major shift in the collective female consciousness: a determination and a commitment towards challenging the restrictive and harmful collective patterns that have led to overwhelming suffering. We want less chaos and more tenderness. We yearn for a more compassionate relationship with our Self, our partners, and especially, our children. But in the pressure to be all things to all people, our endurance and strength is slowly depleted. At times we feel devoured by the unconscious expectations coming at us at every turn. We feel the loss of our feminine nature, our vital resource for connection with ourselves and those we love. If we are to create meaningful change, we need to be able to take care of ourselves—to be still, present, and give ourselves profoundly compassionate attention.”

You can learn more in this interview.
How does stress affect women?
There are some key differences in the ways that men and women report their reactions to stress, both physically and mentally. Women are more likely to say that they have physical and emotional symptoms associated with stress. (headaches, stomach-aches, sleep problems) along with feelings of dread and unworthiness, while men tend to report increased anger and poor health behaviours like turning to alcohol to cope.

While men and women react to stress in generally the same way physiologically: There’s one interesting twist: Because of different levels of the hormones (oxytocin and estrogen) men experience a heightened “fight or flight” response, and women most often engage in “tend and befriend” behavior.

So, for women seeking connection is critical to feeling calm and emotionally buoyant.

The problem is, in this time of greater isolation women have a decreased capacity to soothe their stress with the support of others.

Can you share some mantras for women, especially Moms?
Mantra work is a powerful way to change the neurological architecture of the mind. Mantras starve out negative pathways and create new ones. Like seeds, when mantras are watered often enough, they help us grow thought forms that bring positivity and vibrancy to our life. And the thought forms we practice affect not only how we feel but also what we authorize in our lives. The thinking mind changes our attitudinal tone, emotions, and behavior in ways we are not always conscious of, and these have an impact on our ultimate well-being. A committed practice of mantra work will transform the trajectory of your life because whatever you believe and whatever you feel in your life creates your experience.

Mantra practice is ideal for busy moms. Closed-eye practice takes but a minute or two (first thing in the morning is often most realistic) and you can always recite mantras (out loud, as a whisper, or in your mind) as you bounce between school and soccer practice, during bath time, or any other time that suits you. Mantras can be an anchor in stressful times, and during those openings of quiet they can bring even greater peace.

Read through the following ten mantras and pick the one that stands out the most. You’ll know it automatically. The healing and empowering impact of mantras is built over time. Consider sticking with one for now and allow it to do its work.
  • My child is my sacred contract for growth
  • As I guide my child, they too are guiding me
  • My child is already whole, a shining essence of goodness
  • I soften my eyes, my hands, my words, and my heart
  • My breath will guide me to a gentler, wiser way
  • My awakened presence is my child’s greatest protection
  • This, too, is a perfect moment
  • Intentional solitude is an act of courage
  • I’m open to what my child is teaching me about myself
  • The fulfillment I seek in others rests solely within me
What are some effective meditation techniques?
For most meditators, formal practice is easier in the morning when information from the day has yet to be downloaded. Sitting every day, even if it’s for a short period, will help build those meditation muscles. Some people meditate for a short time two or three times per day; others sit once for a longer period. It can be helpful to choose a specific length of time for your practice and gradually increase it each day. For many beginning meditators, five to ten minutes is a good place to start.

Setting up
  • Sit comfortably on a flat surface.
  • Lengthen the spine, keeping the core sturdy yet relaxed.
  • If sitting on a chair, position the body away from the backrest and keep the knees an inch or so apart.
  • Bring the chin slightly down.
  • Place the hands comfortably on the legs, palms down.
  • Soften the shoulders, forehead, eyelids, and jaw, and place the tongue gently at the palate against the top teeth.
Discovering your anchor
  • To discover your anchor, start by closing your eyes and begin to attune to the breath.
  • Breathe through the nose and let each breath bring you more fully into this moment.
  • Follow the sensation of the in-breath and out-breath as it moves through the nostrils, or just below the nostril at the upper lip.
  • If breathing through the nose is difficult, connect with the breath where it feels more natural.
  • Feel its wave swell at the belly.
  • Or follow the breath as it ripples through the body.
  • Watch and witness as the body breathes itself.
  • You can also combine the breath sensation with other physical sensations, like tingling in the hands.
  • Or sensations at the third eye (the middle of the forehead).
  • Your anchor might be the sounds as they enter your awareness.
  • Choose whatever sensation opens you to your fullest presence.
Dealing with Distraction, Fear, Boredom, Sleepiness, and Pain
  • Everything that arises as you meditate is an opportunity to practice mindful awareness. If distraction surfaces, simply label it as “thinking” or “distraction.” Notice what distraction feels like in the body and return to your anchor.
  • If fear comes up, label it as “fear” and allow yourself to be curious about the sensations. Connect to the heart center and talk to the fear compassionately. Say to the fear, “I’ve got you. Thank you for trying to protect me, but we’re all good here.” Then return to the breath. Or bring to mind the image of a spiritual guide or someone who supports you. Allow them to sit with you until the sensation of fear subsides.
  • If you become bored or sleepy, shift the body so you become more alert. You may be sleepy because the body is just plain tired or because the stillness of meditation signals to the body that it’s time to sleep. It may also be a defense mechanism to keep the body from experiencing difficult or suppressed emotions. Whatever the reason, observe the boredom or sleepiness with compassion and let the judgment go. You might even ask, “What else am I feeling other than sleepy?”
  • Bring the same equanimity to sensations of pain. Calmly breathe into those sensations and notice your reaction to them. Do you meet emotional and physical pain with resentment, avoidance, or fear? Give the discomfort some loving kindness and return to your anchor.

What are some culturally based sources of stress and how can women minimize their effects?
Women are one-and-a-half times more likely to have clinical levels of anxiety: that’s nearly one in four women. And when we look at nonclinical levels that rate jumps up exponentially.

The question is, Why?

Women’s stress is grounded in the early conditioning that tells us how to fit into a society dominated by masculine values and ideals of striving, proving, comparing, and competing.

Gender based barriers lie in every realm of our lives and women grow up breathing the air of fear.

Women and girls in every country on our planet face discrimination, violence, financial and work inequity, and extraordinary challenges due to gender inequality. If you’re black, indigenous, or a woman of colour the barriers you face are far worse. That’s why I say stress is a feminist issue.

Every woman inherits the effects of trauma inflicted on the women who have come before her. If not through epigenetics (the idea that trauma is biologically passed down through generations) then through our shared consciousness.

Women have a great desire and capacity to rise out of this culture of stress and anxiety and step into their highest wellbeing.

Imagine all women coming together in an unwavering spirit of compassion and strength. Envision challenging the cultural story we’re told about who women are supposed to be, and instead forging a path of radical authenticity, self-realization, and self-care. Although each of us will have our own path, the cumulative impact is profound. When one heals, the cultural needle moves a little farther and eventually our collective consciousness changes for the better.

When we say no to the habits and agreements that no longer support our wellbeing and instead choose the kinds of practices that honour, heal, and strengthen us we lay the foundations for a deeply meaningful, wise, and radiant life.

When Women Rise is step-by-step guide includes 25 QR codes to access guided meditations and exercises well-proven to calm your nervous system, steady your mind, and heal your heart. It’s like a therapist in your pocket. These evidence-based practices are an all-encompassing guide deeply rooted in neuroscience, psychology, and integrative medicine.

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