Montana’s Yellowstone River

Disconnect! Your Health Depends on It.

Heartburn is Directly Related to Stress

I admit it. Though most people see me as pretty easy going, motivated, and together, I struggle with heartburn/acid reflux, and it’s directly related to my stress level.

Stress is such a strange thing, because it starts in your head but directly impacts the rest of your body and your emotions. When I describe what is going on in my life, I tell people I’m filling my days, not that I’m busy or stressed, because I love everything I’m fitting into those hours. What I’m realizing, though, is that no matter what I call it or how I phrase it, it’s still stress as far as my body is concerned, and it’s impacting my health.

There’s only so much stress your body can handle before it becomes a consistent thing, and your body is always producing the chemicals associated with stress. That’s not a good thing. Your brain starts to lose its ability to decompress and behave in the normal, problem-solving, calmness to handle everyday things. Yes, chronic stress is bad for your brain, it also contributes to physical pain and discomfort.

Check out Melissa Hughes in her Give Your Brain A Break video:

So how do we stop this monkey brain and short-circuit the physical damage being done by always being stressed?

Even if we are enjoying everything we’re filling our days with, our bodies are experiencing stress when we don’t take time to decompress.

I spend time outside, preferably near water. Last year I wrote about my frustration at taking three days in the wild mountains of Montana before finally finding peace in my head and body. In that article, I mentioned some strategies I was going to implement to try to shorten the time it takes me to get to that place of calm, and I have implemented them — mostly.

Happily, I can report back that it only took me 6 hours on the river and a sleepless night in a tent this time. Still far too long, but an improvement since last year!

We left our house and drove along the Missouri River, heading to a spot to deliver a shuttle vehicle, and then driving nearly 20 miles upstream to where we would put the kayak in the water and begin our two-day adventure.

Believe it or not, I never considered myself “outdoorsy” until we moved to Montana. I still find myself a bit queasy when I walk on the stone-covered beach of one of rivers and see hundreds of bugs and spiders scatter. But when we moved to Montana, I had the opportunity to fly fish on its rivers, and camp in its spectacular mountains; Montana changed me.

Our recent river adventure was actually my idea, and I insisted we do something soon because we’re running out of camping season, FAST. We unloaded the boat and gear from the truck, and carefully arranged everything in our 2-person kayak. Our younger son calls it “Tetris-ing” after the old game with moving blocks falling down, you arrange them to fill in the lines, kind of like packing a moving van. We managed to load up that boat with dry bags full of a tent, two sleeping bags, two camping pads, a cooler with food, and a variety of smaller dry bags for other gear. Yes, it was a tight fit.

Can you see the eagle in the tree?

We paddled and floated a section of the Missouri River that we hadn’t explored before, catching sight of a bald eagle within five minutes of our time on the water.

Over the next few hours, we were treated to spectacular views, and a variety of critters, bald eagles, egrets, a flock of pelicans and a few Sandhill cranes making loud and threatening noises as we passed what must have been a nest. Despite the distractions of the views and animals, I kept thinking about my phone in that dry bag. Worry made my brows furrow as I considered the messages I needed to send, and the work I knew would be waiting for me when I got back.

Breathe, Sarah. Clear your head. Paddle. Listen. Listen. REALLY listen.

My internal dialog was mostly patient, but sometimes I got irritated with myself. Here I was, in a place full of beauty, danger, and vivid colors, with my husband I love and don’t seem to spend enough time with, and I couldn’t clear my head and just enjoy. Yes, very frustrating.

Sunset on the Missouri River

We found a nice spot on an island to set up the tent, make dinner and relax, and had some time to get settled in before it got dark. I was exhausted after getting the gear ready, paddling for miles and hours, and setting up camp, so when I slid into my sleeping bag and put my head down, I expected sleep to come quickly. It didn’t.

I tossed and turned, thoughts of what to say in a meeting that week, conversations from the previous week invading, and preparation for upcoming music and storytelling performances filled my brain, again.

When it got light outside, I stayed a while longer in my sleeping bag, trying to clear my head. Eventually I realized I wasn’t going to doze anymore, so I unzipped the tent and climbed out. Wandering further than I had when we were exploring the evening before, I found a sandy hill that overlooked birds nests and the slow-moving river. I took off my sandals and dug my toes into the cool sand. I stretched, I breathed, and I listened.

Sitting down crossed-legged, I straightened my back, closed my eyes, and breathed deeply. The smells of the water, the plants, trees, and flowers nearby, and the sound of the buzzing bugs suddenly cleared my head. No idea how long I sat there, and for once in many months, I didn’t care about the time that was passing. Finally.

We spent some time enjoying our morning together, and didn’t rush to put all the gear away and back in the boat. When we pushed off from our little spot on the island, my head was clear, my eyes were focused on the beauty around me, and I felt completely calm for the first time in months.

Lucky for our boys, they have those same opportunities, and I’m proud to say that they often take them. They met up with friends this summer and went camping for three nights at a lake about an hour from our house.

At the dinner table on Sunday evening, when we asked the boys what they enjoyed most about their three nights away, they mentioned swimming in the lake, brother time, and the edge of safety they experienced when they observed the many dead trees nearby (we’re having a frightening wildfire season in Montana), described as camping “near a tinderbox.”

I’m grateful that our boys not only know how to have an adventure like this, but that they choose to be there. I only hope they keep their sense of calm with them, and that in the future, it doesn’t take them more than a few hours to decompress.

What are you doing to decompress? Is it working? I’d like to hear your thoughts about the difference between stress related to unhappiness and stress related to over-commitment to things you love.

Join us at No Longer Virtual in Denver on February 22 and 23, 2018. Early registration opens on September 1, 2017!

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Sarah Elkins is a professional coach and consultant, helping people and businesses improve their communication through the art of storytelling. She’s also the President of Elkins Consulting, the company making a splash with small, face-to-face, affordable interactive conferences called No Longer Virtual.

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