We all live with some amount of stress.
You are well-aware that you are feeling stressed out when you feel overwhelmed.
You have deadlines looming, your mind starts racing, you don’t sleep well, your appetite vanishes, and your digestion is in an uproar.
You may think of stress as psychological in nature, in that the stress itself usually isn’t life-threatening, but it’s how you react to the events going on around you that feels pretty serious.
Most of us think of stress as something that occupies your mind, and only when the stress is severe, out-of-control, and chronic does it impact your health.
There are some sources of stress, however, that are primarily physical in nature — some that don’t occupy your mind at all.
It seems that emotional stressors are the ones that get your attention, but stressful physical events can also be major health bombs and frequently go unnoticed.
Much of Chinese medicine is based on the premise that we are all part of the natural world.
As such, we reflect the forces of nature in our bodies, and good health is all about balancing these natural forces. When the seasons change, animals adapt in a variety of ways — squirrels gather nuts in the fall, songbirds migrate, bears hibernate in the winter, and all kinds of baby animals are born in the spring and summer.
We humans tend to keep on doing what we’re doing and for the most part ignore seasonal changes altogether.
Each season has a personality, and to live as healthfully as possible, it is wise to listen and adapt to the tasks, or themes of each season.
For example, when we move from summer to fall, the weather turns dry, the evenings become cooler, and the harvest of squash and root vegetables is in full swing.
Your job is to make the switch from cooling summer foods (tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons) to nourishing and moistening fall produce. During the fall, you’re supposed to put on a couple of pounds to help you keep warm throughout the winter. Pears and apples, plus squash, potatoes, yams, and other root vegetables are all ideal autumn fare.
These changes in weather from season to season cause you to adapt physically, and adapting takes energy. By honoring the essence of each season and acknowledging the change, you can avoid fatigue and the typical colds and flu associated with each season.
The idea of overworking is considered a direct cause of illness in Chinese medicine.
Even if you love your job, it’s possible to be physically wiped out from working too hard. While the term overwork conjures up the idea of hard manual labor, it can also mean working too many hours, studying too long, and even exercising too much.
The work ethic and financial necessity are strong motivators in the United States, where 7.6 million people hold more than one job, and over a quarter of a million people actually work two full-time jobs. In addition, seven percent of American workers spend 60 or more hours a week at work, which is the equivalent of working 8 1/2 hours every day of the week!
Overworking is a health disaster for a couple of reasons.
First, it creates a huge imbalance between work and recovery, that’s so necessary for good health. Your body and mind heal and rejuvenate when you rest, and if you’re working 60 plus hours a week, there’s not much time to recover.
Second, overworking wears down your body’s constitution and your ability to bounce back from trauma and illness.
Essentially, it depletes your energy and wears you out.
Even if you’re taking a trip for fun, traveling is an energy drain.
You’re dealing with different time zones and jet lag, eating different foods, sleeping in a bed that’s not your own, and drinking from a different water supply.
And your body is using valuable energy to adapt to all of these changes.
Travel can also wreak havoc on a cranky back, and can be especially hard if you’re flying or driving for many hours. In addition, getting on a plane with 250 other people, some of whom are sick, can tax your immune system before you’ve even left the runway.
While you may thrive on the excitement of visiting a new place, your body is stressed because it’s…different.
If you routinely travel for business, the stress on your body can be even more intense. Often the trips are short, punctuated with meetings, business meals, and little time to yourself.
Simply being aware of these physical stressors is an important first step in protecting your health.
Pay attention to seasonal changes, eat food that’s local and currently in season, and get enough down time, especially when you’re working long hours or traveling. These simple safeguards can help you stay in the best heath possible.