THE BLOG
01/28/2016 04:43 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Stillness and Rest: An Essential Part of Health

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Are you one of those women who hit the ground running in the morning and flop down in bed exhausted at night?

If you're anything like me, you constantly feel like you're rushing around -- always trying to catch up. It feels like the treadmill of life is always running at the highest speed.

Busy schedules, constant deadlines and never-ending to-do lists are considered the norm in most women's daily lives.

Taking time off, scheduling a vacation or even a relaxing weekend seems indulgent (and even a bit selfish) when there are millions of things demanding your attention.

Yet, your body isn't designed for the craziness of a 24/7 non-stop, highly-stressful life.

Pico Iyer states in his book, The Art of Stillness:

We've lost our Sundays, our weekends, and our nights off -- our holy days, as some would have it; our bosses, our email, our parents can find us wherever we are, at any time of day or night. More and more of us feel like emergency-room physicians, permanently on call, required to heal ourselves but unable to find the prescription for all the clutter on our desk.

Being busy and over-scheduled is a significant problem when it comes to our health and well-being.

Downtime, rest, stillness and slowing down are essential for healing -- especially if you already have declining health and/or chronic disease.

  • The Connection Between Stress, Cortisol and Health.

More than 90 percent of my patients with chronic disease have adrenal fatigue or failure. They've been burning the candle at both ends flooding their bodies with high levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) for prolonged periods of time.

Cortisol is released by your adrenal glands into the bloodstream during times of stress as part of the "fight or flight" response and it's essential for survival.

It induces those feelings you feel when you nearly miss a car accident or the phone rings unexpectedly at 3 o'clock in the morning -- the racing heart and the feelings of panic.

But it's only meant to be activated for very short periods of time.

When you're under constant stress -- emotional, physical or spiritual -- cortisol remains elevated for lengthy periods of time.

You don't necessarily have to face physical danger to trigger the "fight or flight" response.

Research suggests constant psychological and emotional stress also induce a low-grade, continual cortisol response. It's felt in your body as tension, anxiety, or that knot in the pit of your stomach.

It can be triggered by persistent negative thoughts, ruminating about a negative experience, unresolved emotional pain, unhealthy relationships, and busy schedules and long to-do lists.

The body can't differentiate between "good" stress and "bad" stress, either. Stress is stress.

It floods your body with cortisol and if left unchecked it can lead to declining health and chronic disease.


Research suggests
prolonged high levels of cortisol are a direct risk factor for chronic disease and increased mortality.

It starts with symptoms like fatigue, insomnia, weight gain, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, improper immune system response, blood sugar imbalances and mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety.

If left unchecked, these reversible symptoms will stick around and trigger more serious health concerns.

The remedy for this is quite simple (albeit challenging to execute).

  • Slowing Down is Essential.

Slowing down is not just a luxury -- it's critical for our health and well-being. This is when your healing mechanisms are running optimally and your cortisol levels return to normal.

Your body cannot heal unless it's given optimal downtime and you're not in a constant state of chronic stress.

Allow yourself time to slow down, check out, unplug, and unwind. Intentionally clear your mind and let go of the racing thoughts.

In other words, do "nothing" on purpose -- as often as you can.

You'll feel your body relax.

You'll feel more connected with the center of your being.

You'll think clearer, sleep better, and feel energized.

Your cortisol levels will return to normal.

And your body will have the best opportunity to heal.

However, the kicker is this...

  • Downtime Will Never Show Up Invited.

Most of us have to be intentional about scheduling in downtime, stillness and rest.

It may sound crazy but schedule "downtime" on your calendar or block off times where you intentionally schedule "nothing."

Use this time to breathe deeply, take a nap, meditate, pray, practice gratitude, walk barefoot in the grass, laugh, swing on a hammock or sit in silence. Choose activities that feel relaxing and rejuvenating.

If you're fortunate enough to be able to take days or weeks off, allow yourself time to unplug, unwind and completely disconnect from the stressors of your everyday life.

  • What if Downtime is Hard to Find?

Far too many women tell me that they can't schedule in downtime, vacations or relaxing weekends -- even an afternoon "off" is far-fetched.

I get it.

There were years of my life where my 80-hour weeks barely left me time to shower! Any time "off" I had was filled with essentials like grocery shopping, paying the bills or doing laundry.

If you're one of those women, let me challenge you.

Even if you can't take a vacation or time off from work or family you can always invite more stillness and rest into your life.

Rick Hanson, in his book Just One Thing, states that even short breaks throughout the day make a difference. He says even if it's one or two minutes or "micro breaks" the cumulated effects add up.

Take just 5 minutes to sit still, close your eyes, take some deep breaths, and relax your body.

Do this as often as you can throughout the day.

  • Parting Thoughts...

In today's noisy world, it's challenging to find the time to slow down.

But living in a constant state of crazy-busy with overscheduled to-do lists have a profoundly negative effect on your health.

Allow yourself time to slow down and be still.

It's not just a luxury for those fortunate to have vacation time but rather it's an essential part of health and healing -- especially if you have chronic health challenges.

I'd love to hear from you...

How often do you schedule in downtime or just sit still?

Originally published by Dr. Deborah Caldwell on www.DrDeborah.com.

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