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Stress Less: An Important Part of Our Physical and Mental Health - Family Law News

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Family Law News


Posted on: Feb 3, 2021

Intro by Michael McGuire, Marion County Prosecutor's Office

As this new year begins, it is difficult for all of us to ignore the events of 2020 that caused so many issues for so many people. Family law attorneys had to assist families navigating issues that we had not considered prior to 2020: who is responsible for children’s e-learning schedules, how COVID-19 affects the parenting time schedule, how to navigate Zoom, WebEx, Microsoft Teams and court dates continued, canceled, or converted to virtual hearings, etc.

During that time, attorneys also had to figure out how they stayed connected to their clients, partners and associates while working from home instead of their office. Attorneys also were faced with how to maintain their practices while taking care of all the issues within their own families and the pandemic.

As everyone looks forward to 2021, we still have many of the same issues to tackle while now adding the stress of ensuring we and our loved ones receive the vaccine when available.

Attorneys are not immune from stress; in fact, we are generally expected to help alleviate our clients stress, stress of business associates and the public, who worry they will not have access to the judicial system. However, we must not forget to manage our stress to protect our physical and mental health.

I asked Pam Sala, the founder of Sala Solutions, to write an article on how to deal with stress. Pam worked in the Michigan child support system for nearly 30 years before retiring and opening her business Sala Solutions. I hope that you find it helpful!

Stress Less: An Important Part of Our Physical and Mental Health
By Pam Sala, Sala Solutions

We certainly are living in some stressful times right now. With the political climate, COVID-19, working from home, home schooling our kids, travel restrictions, inability to visit family and friends and the fact that we are home ALL the time can really cause extra stress on all of us.

Seventy-five percent of the general population experiences some form of big stress every two weeks. Seventy-five to 90 percent of doctor visits are related to stress. But here is the thing, only 30 percent of people think that stress impacts their life.

Stress hormones cause cardiovascular disease, digestive problems, fatigue and can put you at risk for depression and may cause fuzzy thinking. There is also a connection between stress and metabolism. Without getting into too much of the science, let me give a short explanation.

The autonomic nervous system is responsible for digestive activity, and there are two branches: parasympathetic and sympathetic. The parasympathetic is also known as the rest and digest, or feel and heal, response. This is the optimal state for digestion and healing. When the parasympathetic is activated, metabolic power increases. This means when we are relaxed, we burn more fat. The sympathetic is also known as fight or flight. This is our stress response. When we are stressed out, guess what happens to digestion? It shuts down.
The classic textbook example is that if a lion were chasing you after lunch, you would not be concerned about digesting your sandwich. The sympathetic nervous system would act effectively to shut down digestion, direct blood flow away from the belly and out towards your arms and legs for quick moving and up to your brain for quick thinking. This is a brilliant mechanism in place for our survival. Thankfully, most of us do not have to confront lions on our lunch hour, but we do encounter stress.

On a physiological level, your body does not differentiate between a lion chasing you and your boss or customer yelling at you or getting tense in a traffic jam. One is life-threatening. The other is not. But guess what? Physiologically, they are the same. They both trigger the body to shut off digestion and store fat. This decreases our metabolic power.

When your sympathetic is activated, which is all day for some of us, even at a chronic low level, our parasympathetic is shut off. These don’t go ON at the same time. If one is on, the other is off. If we do not learn how to relax, we will not be able to tap into our natural mechanism for burning fat and keeping us at an ideal weight. Not to mention the other risks we place on our bodies when we are stressed out.

So, what do we need to do? We need to manage it. What I always tell people is I can’t take away all your stress. That would be awesome if I could. But I can help you control it. One other thing that happens is when you are stressed, you are more likely to emotionally eat and then that causes even more stress. Those stress hormones cause you to gain weight in your midsection, the worst place to gain weight.

One thing I tell everyone to do, and you can all do right now, is what I call the 5 x 5 x 7 breath. Breathe in for the count of five, hold for a count of five and exhale for a count of seven. Try to do that for about eight minutes a day and do it before eating to help you release some stress before eating. I used to do this when I was commuting to work and traffic was going nowhere. It is so simple and does wonders for the tension you might feel. This breathing technique alone can decrease stress and can be that one thing that just triggers a whole wonderful cycle of a nutritious life. So, if you don’t try anything else today to manage stress, try that one thing. It will help you sleep better, feel better and may just be that one spark that gets you to live a much more nutritious life.

Another thing that works for some of my clients is meditation from the book “Five Good Minutes” by Jeffrey Brantley MD and Wendy Millstine. This book is a great resource if you are looking for some short and simple meditations. One of my favorites is the Five Finger Peace meditation. With a little practice in just five minutes, you can induce a highly effective relaxation technique using just your hand. This five-finger exercise could be your ticket to building inner strength, harmony and a sense of ease. It also is a great way to reflect on all things we have to be grateful for.

One final thought: we hear a lot about the need for self-care these days, which is the main principle my coaching program is built around. While I like the idea of getting a massage, to me, self-care is about living a nutritious life, which includes staying hydrated, eating empowered, living consciously, sleeping deep, stressing less, sweating often, loving more and nurturing yourself. These eight things are so inter-related that doing one of them will naturally lead you to incorporating others and all help you lead a less stressful life.

Holding you to the highest version of yourself!

If you would like to submit content or write an article for the Family Law Section, please email Kara Sikorski at ksikorski@indybar.org.

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