Stress is The Opposite of What We Need to Thrive
The body is built to thrive. A moment in time, in a real and present danger, the body responds with “fight, flight or freeze.” But only for a moment in time. The other 99.9% of the time, we are meant to “rest, digest and thrive.”
We have it upside down: our modern lives are far removed from the bucolic pace of nature, night gradually morphs into day, time lingers sparkling around the edges of dew on a morning flower. Life is Nature’s pace where we can feel a storm approaching two days off, were the moon cycles and the bird flight tell us exactly what we need to know and were we are safe 99% of the day.
The body’s switch is either on survive or thrive, finding and creating beauty will begin the journey back to “thrive.”
We Need Beauty to Thrive
We are meant to thrive — 99.9% of the time is meant for joy, creativity, expressing our inner muse, creating beauty in a garden, with food, laughing, learning, being with relationships and with our contribution to the world.
The real “danger” response that is meant to keep us alive in a random event, when extended over time is killing us…in my upcoming book, SHIFT, I call it the “99 Tigers” of modern life, everything from deadlines, to bills, to the design of our spaces is killing us and not softly.
The physiology behind the stress response is fascinating, and when it is stuck on “ON” is one that creates obesity, diabetes (Type I and Type II), strokes, heart disease, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, Anxiety, irritability, anger, panic disorders, decreased sex drive, fibromyalgia, digestive disorders, pain, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, and suicide. Blech.
What’s this got to do with design of my spaces? Everything.
But first – let’s hit the reset button in one moment:
1 An “any time” beautiful moment: breathe. Breathe through your nose to tell your body you are safe. Notice your body being “breathed,” the air filling your lungs, your belly expanding. Breathing through your mouth (and shallowly) signals to the body that you are experiencing stress-filled event…Take some time today to breathe, feel the air on your skin and here the sounds around you…
2 Smile – smiling tells your body that things are okay. Science tells us that we read micro-expressions and a true smile indicates safety. (A true smile is one where the muscles of the eyes are turned up and eyes twinkle.) Smile also tells the body we are safe and we slip into the “rest and digest” system. Can’t get to a genuine smile right away? Do a quick web search for “baby (your favorite) animal” and watch the stress melt. The Japanese call it kawaii, Disney employs it to soften the hardened exterior of the modern human: it’s the cuteness factor – anything that looks like a small child, large head, big eyes, body proportionally a child size, uplifts us and unlocks the “rest and digest” if even for a moment.
3 Pause and look for beauty – whenever you notice yourself stressing, comparing, competing, noticing anything hard, fast, urgent, keeping up, adding on one more thing, stressing out…PAUSE. Breathe and smile. Moving from a patriarchal system of lack of everything, where everything is parsed to those who rapaciously perform, we have forgotten and ignored the nourishment and pace of Nature. Beauty allows us to access our higher order thinking brain, our health & happiness. With beauty we can be and contribute our own creativity and to the beauty of the world around us. Pause and look for beauty, then once restored, ask: what’s the one thing I can do next that will bring most joy into my life, my family, the world? Listen and your inner wisdom will guide you. That’s where we create a world of beauty and dynamic peace and happiness.
4 Create beauty – simply, soft and loving attention to anything creates beauty. Anything done with intention to create beauty, even making your bed after you leave it in the morning, folding a towel or napkin, sitting to eat with your children, delighting in them, taking time, doing one thing at a time (read here why you should forget multi-tasking) will restore health and the immune system. I cleaned and opened my windows, let the glorious nature and sunshine into my spaces. Dorina Rudd, Interior Designer in Traverse City, Michigan posted a beautiful thought on Instagram of the power of a flower to gently uplift any space. Place one or many flowers, a pussy-willow, or even a handful of cilantro in a glass or vase and feel the reassurance that life continues and will continue with beauty around.
Employ a few Zen design principles in your spaces & life
- Kanso: simplicity, elimination of clutter – actual or visual or auditory, too much input creates stress. Think design in terms of clarity, removing the non-essential, try it on one counter space or your desk – remove everything but the essential.
- Shizen: Naturalness, purpose and intention. Intentionally placing one flower in a glass or small vase in a space of clarity and calm. The act of placing it is as healing as the vision of it each time you see it.
- Datsuzoku: Freedom from habit or formula. In life this is taking an unexpected break, finding a gift on your pillow or in your drawer. In design this is the compelling and uplifting creation of beautiful curiosity, mystery and then delightful surprise. This originates from and creates a feeling of safety, from which health is created. Leave a small surprise for yourself or another to create beauty.
- Seijaku: tranquility or vitalized calm. Bring a feeling of active calm by breathing, speaking slower, pausing in the moment, asking a question that is open-ended and doesn’t require an answer: “what else is possible here?” “How can this be easier, more joyful, softer?” In design this refers to limiting pattern, color, and items, creating openness through which the mind, eye and body rest and allow focus on what is important or of beauty.
- Yūgen: “a profound, mysterious sense of the beauty of the universe.” Bring in your version of beauty to connect to the healing support of Nature. Nature continues to flow and to thrive: the trees and plants don’t hold a grudge, aren’t fearful, and understand that everything occurs in Nature’s time and continue to grow with the trust that Nature knows.
Our spaces can be designed to provide the beauty from which our bodies recreate themselves and by which we create our relationships and lives.
What can you do today, in a small moment, to bring beauty and nourishment back into your life and your spaces?
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Here is to beauty and your beautiful life,