Soul Food – For Stress
Soul food nourishes our mind and spirit. It casts a soothing spell; worries and concerns seem to melt away. Soul food is about taking time to take time; time for outside adventures, creative moments, sports teams or dance troupes, time to meditate under a tree, read a book or breathe in the beauty of a sunrise. Time with friends and family, time that brings us joy and peace, even for a moment. Time for our souls.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines health as a state of social, mental and physical wellbeing. (1) Our health is affected in many ways, the most obvious are nutrition and exercise. Not so obvious is emotional and mental health, we may not realise the impact until experiencing stress or truma which accumalaates into a physical health issue.
While stress is a fact of life, managing stress is not. Good mental and emotional health allows us to adapt to stress.
Stress, or stressful situations are commonly defined as those “in which the demands of the situation threaten to exceed the resources of the individual” (2) Sound familiar to anyone? Have you had that cry into the wilderness “I can’t take this anymore!”? I did earlier today after too many mornings dragging my beloved but unresponsive teenagers out of bed and off to school.
Researchers are exploring the links between stress and disease. One team has found that those under long term chronic stress at work are more susceptible to metabolic syndrome (3). Others are exploring the impact of stress on cardiovascular disease (4). What we think and feel impacts our physical body Im sure many of us would agree.
Emotional and Mental Health
Being emotionally healthy does not mean you are happy all the time. Emotional health is being aware of your emotions, both negative and positive, and being able to deal with them. When life throws up challenges emotionally healthy people keep them within a framework which allows them to bounce back.
Emotionally healthy people still feel stress, anger or sadness but they know how to manage their negative feelings when they do arise. They also know when to reach out and ask for help from others.
Mental health and emotional health are intertwined. WHO describes mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community” (1).
Emotional and mental health like any skill, can be improved and developed. No matter how dark things may seem today we can begin the steps towards improving, growing a day at a time. Like building muscles at the gym with small weights, small habits are the start of growing stronger and able to handle more and more physically and mentally
Consciously create rhythm
The world, the seasons, life stages all work within rhythms. In the modern western world no longer is there a daily rhythm in life that feeds into personal downtime. When we leave our place of work or other commitments we are followed with the insistent whisper of text, emails and messaging getting louder and louder.
We fill time mindlessly scrolling feeds with the hollow eyes of a casino machine addict.
Minutes and hours disappear down the hole of a wifi induced coma leaving us depleted. We consciously or unconsciously berate ourselves for not having the fabulous life, friends, family, body etc of our internet counterpart. This is not conducive to good health my friends.
Open the diary, your app, your mind and consciously create the time you are going to build your health with some soul food.
Downtime is Soul food
Soul food. Time away from regular life pressures. There is no rule. Don’t let that picture of the meditating monk by the waterfall make you feel inadequate. Soul food is whatever sends you into blissful ignorance of all around you.
Soul food is food that takes us away from the pain, discomfort and worries that life brings. It doesn’t remove them but helps to build our resilience. Life can be shitty and no one is immune from this truth. Research has found that those who have hobbies and interests also have stronger resilience to stress and improved health outcomes (5).
Want to raise budgerigars? Show dogs, perhaps grow a prized tomato or fill the garden with mosaic art pieces? What is your heart yearning to do, your mind intrigued by, or your body challenged too? Now go and make time to do it.
Join the roller derby club you have admired from afar, pick up those knitting needles put aside for too much reality tv, the soccer ball growing dusty because you put yourself in the ‘too old’ basket way before needed, hike the mountain, paint the picture or travel the world.
Feeding your soul in this way will build your health, resilience and you may just make some new friends.
Mental health can become complex. Life can be pretty full on, sometimes it feels like you can’t see your way out. Work, family, strained relationships, grief, all have the ability to rip out your heart and/or mind.
I encourage you to seek out professional support if needed, but at the same time don’t underestimate the small but consistent use of soul food to enhance your emotional and mental wellbeing. Nourishing our mental and emotional health keeps us in good stead for when ‘life’ hits us in the face
5 Ideas to get you going
- Sit quietly and just be, then ask yourself what will be your soul food
- Sign up for a class or join a group in something that interests you
- Make time to be with people who make you laugh
- Book a holiday, as short as a night or two in a different town can refresh the soul
- Acknowledge that like everything our emotions have seasons, good and bad.
Resources if you are feeling overwhelmed mentally or emotionally-
Life line phone 13 11 14
2 Lazarus RS, Folkman S. Stress, Appraisal and Coping. New York: Springer; 1984
3 Chronic stress at work and the metabolic syndrome: prospective study.,Tarani Chandola, Eric Brunner, Michael Marmot BMJ 332 (7540), 521-525, 2006
4.Holman EA, Silver RC, Poulin M, Andersen J, Gil-Rivas V, McIntosh DN. Terrorism, Acute Stress, and Cardiovascular Health: A 3-Year National Study Following the September 11th Attacks. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2008;65(1):73–80. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2007.6
5. The Effects of Physically Active Leisure on Stress-Health Relationships Iwasaki, Y., Zuzanek, J. & Mannell, R.C. Can J Public Health (2001) 92: 214. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03404309