Today I start the first of my posts on spring cleaning.  And instead of starting with our closets I am going to suggest we start with ourselves. 

I talk a lot about trying to juggle a my life with a husband, a 4  year old, work, friends and well life.  And frankly I just don't have as much energy as I did in my 20s to get it all done.  Let's face it worrying about getting your kid into kindergarten, getting him off to preschool on time with a snack and combed hair, paying my bills, making dinner, skating lessons, eeking out some date time with hubbie, running my business, networking for new business... well, the stress builds.   And when the stress builds things, and me, get kind of ugly!  So I thought we all might benefit from a guest post from Holly Mosier, an expert on stress, to find out how we 40-plus-year-old women can effectively deal with stress.  And Holly knows this topic – at 51 years old she is a wife, mother, stepmother, author, former trial lawyer and travels all across the country.  So I asked her, with the craziness that is often our lives, what can we do to reduce our stress and find some peace of mind?

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Here is what Holly had to say:

When I was 40, I hit a wall.  I was newly remarried, a mother, stepmother and a trial lawyer.  My new husband was also a trial lawyer.  Between us, we had four kids, demanding jobs and we were trying to “blend.”  It was . . . a war zone.   I was gaining weight, losing energy and I became terribly depleted and depressed. I chalked it up to our challenging circumstances and perimenopause.  But what I ended up discovering was that all my problems, at their root, were caused by stress. A lot of stress!

Stress is cumulative.  The effects build up over time.  We may think that we can blow off a little steam occasionally and rid ourselves of our stress, but that isn’t true. As long as we keep our crazy schedules intact and stretch ourselves too thin, the effects of stress bury themselves in our psyche and our bodies, causing a myriad of problems we chalk up to “normal aging.” These effects include wrinkles, belly fat, fatigue, lethargy, a suppressed immune system that leaves us more vulnerable to illness . . . all those things that rob us of our ability to enjoy a vibrant, vital and expansive life.  I want to be attractive and vibrant as I age.  Don’t we all?

Reducing stress and learning a few simple tools to keep it under control opened up new vistas for me and changed my outlook on aging.  I bet it will for you, too.  When I am not operating under that state of depletion that stress brings, I can fully enjoy my life, at every stage.

I am 51 years old now, and living a more vibrant, happy life than I ever did in my 20’s, 30’s or 40’s.  Here are a couple of the key things I did to arrive at this very fulfilling place:

 1.  Opt Out. 

Just Opt Out.  I only wish I had learned this decades ago. I would have started truly enjoying my life so much sooner!

Opting out is saying no to demands, invitations, requests and activities that leave you depleted with no time for yourself.  Until I learned to say no – and mean it – I was always overloaded with stress, and suffered from its nasty effects, including lethargy, crankiness and belly fat.

You see, our American culture has a major dysfunction: overscheduling.  And no matter how many stress-management tools you have, they do not come close to compensating for a schedule with too many things to do and not enough time in which to do them. So until you create some time for yourself by opting out, you are going to be a slave to the harmful effects of stress.

You may feel guilty and selfish at first for guarding your down time.  Saying no can be uncomfortable, especially when you’re not used to it.  At first you may hem and haw and circle around it, perhaps even offering a weak “maybe.”  That is a big mistake.  It is better if you are just out with it.  Offering excuses and reasons why you can’t do something only muddies things and serves as an opening for negotiation.  The most important reason for your “no” is that you need your downtime so you won’t behave like a jerk because you’re depleted.  So just smile, and say no thank you, and keep moving.  And when you do start opting out, you’ll soon find that you are a much nicer, more present, more productive person in each instance where you choose to commit and say yes.  You’ll bring a greater benefit to yourself, your family and others when you are not constantly operating from a state of depletion.

When I take a break, even just a brief one, the creative energy flows in.  Only then do I have anything of value to share with others. The human body and mind require downtime to rejuvenate and I have found my greatest moments of joy and peace just sitting in a few moments of silence, and then I take that joy and peace with me out into the world.

When I truly started opting out and stopped the cycle of being constantly over-committed, my stress reduced dramatically - nearly overnight - and a happy, vibrant, and belly-fat-free person who was hiding in there emerged!

2.  Four-Count Breath.

The Four-Count Breath is my quickest and most effective stress reduction tool.  All you do is consciously focus on the breath.  You can do it anytime, anywhere, and no one even needs to know.  I learned about the calming effects of focused breathing through yoga, but you do not need to do yoga to benefit from it.

My Four-Count Breath technique is simple.  Breathe in through your nose while slowly counting to four, then exhale through your nose to the count of four.  Focus on the breath with your mind.  Listen to the sound of it.  If possible, close your eyes.  Let the breath be smooth, with no gasping or catching, kind of like a wave flowing in and then drifting away from the shore.

After just three or four of these breaths, you will begin to notice a difference.  You’ll start to relax.

Focused breathing is fun for me.  I love playing around with it.  When I’m driving and hit a red light, that’s a signal to begin the Four-Count Breath.  The phone rings?  Four-Count Breath starts before I even answer it.  The alarm goes off?  Four-Count Breath begins.  I’m like Pavlov’s dog.  I’ve ingrained the habit, so my first response when something stressful happens is to focus on my breath rather than blindly reacting.  You can feel the stress just wash away, or at least the worst of it.

Opting out and the Four-Count Breath are just some of the things I incorporate into my life that keep me happy, healthy and vibrant.  Now I am actually enjoying everything I get to do, from work, kids, grocery shopping, to taking a vacation.  Without the stress, work and play all becomes satisfying, and happy people age well.

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Holly Mosier is the author of the groundbreaking book, Stress Less, Weigh Less and the creator of Holly Mosier’s10-Minute Yoga DVD.  To find out more about Holly, go to http://hollymosier.com