Article Series on Self-Care for the Immigrant and Refugee Serving Sector by Aina-Nia Ayo'dele (June 2016)
According to the dictionary, stress is defined as a specific response by the body to a stimulus, such as pain or fear, that disturbs or interferes with the normal physiological equilibrium of an organism.
The World Health Organization is calling stress "the health epidemic of the 21st century" and this interference or disturbance to our natural way of being is becoming a new "norm" in the workplace. For example, a common response to the question, "How are you?" is "I'm stressed."
Prolonged experiences of stress wear down the body and the mind. “It’s much like flooring the gas pedal with your car in park. If you do it for a prolonged period, something in your engine will break.” says Dr. Adam Perlman, Chief Medical Officer at meQuilibrium.
Those in the settlement services sector are further exposed to this so-called health epidemic due to firsthand exposure to the hardship, pain, or trauma of the community's most vulnerable. Frontline workers and managers are "breaking" and it is manifesting as stress-related illnesses such as insomnia, depression, muscle and joint pain and even cancer. Disability claims are on the rise.
So, as you do this very valuable work in the community, how do you ensure that you stay healthy in spite of the intensity of your workloads?
The answer is mindful and consistent self-care or what I like to call, Self-Stewardship - the careful and responsible management of self.
One of the simplest and most profound stress reduction techniques available at anytime is the breath.
Sit or stand at your desk in a position that feels relaxed for your body. As best as possible, relax your abdominal muscles. Don't be afraid to loosen your belt or waist buttons, the key is to feel relaxed.
Take a slow inhale and a long exhale.
Pay attention to your abdomen as you consciously breathe. On the inhale, fill up your lungs with beautiful fresh air and feel your abdomen contract. On the exhale, let your abdomen expand outward.
On 4 counts, take another deep slow inhale, then slowly exhale for 4 counts.
And just because and with a smile...
Take a slow purposeful inhale and conscious exhale.
Repeat this simple technique at least 5 times twice throughout the day or whenever you are feeling stressed, whichever comes first.
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