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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Taking Time for Retreats

by Nancy P. Askins, PhD, Executive Director Center of Renewal Retreat & Conference Center at Stella Niagara

Isn’t it time for your next, or first, retreat? In today’s stress-filled world, people are running here and there, everywhere, maintaining schedules of activities that are almost impossible to keep. Yet we somehow manage to get things done, so we reasonably assume we can truly handle everything, right? Guess again! Even though we THINK may be accomplishing the many tasks of our lives, far too often we are kidding ourselves. Studies have shown that our minds can really only acutely focus on one thing at a time, contrary to popular belief about multi-tasking. Something always suffers from over-commitments, whether our family, job, finances, church or community involvement, or especially, our own physical, spiritual, intellectual, and emotional health.

George Chrousos, M.D., Chief of the Pediatric and Reproductive Endocrinology Branch at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), has studied the effects of continual stress on the human body. “A threat to your life or safety triggers a primal physical response from the body, leaving you breathless, heart pounding, and mind racing. From deep within your brain, a chemical signal speeds stress hormones through the bloodstream, priming your body to be alert and ready to escape danger. Concentration becomes more focused, reaction time faster, and strength and agility increase. When the stressful situation ends, hormonal signals switch off the stress response and the body returns to normal.”

However, for many of us in today’s fast-paced world, our bodies don’t return to normal since we don’t give ourselves time to recuperate from excessive stress. We just keep on multi-tasking and taking on much more than necessary, never truly taking time to STOP and REST. Excess stress can cause high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, psychological disorders, ulcers, obesity, malnutrition, smoking, colds, flu, fatigue, infections, and much more.

So what do we do to handle the many stresses of life, and yet regain the balance we sorely need to survive? Why not make a retreat! “But how can I take time to make a retreat”, you may be asking yourself, “when I can barely find time for everything else going on in my life?” Well, just think about it. If you are not at your best for yourself as an individual, how can you possibly hope to be available to help the others in your life who need your attention?

Make a retreat. Just sit back and imagine how it would feel. You have actually set aside time for yourself to get away from everyday demands and distractions where you can focus on yourself, on your spiritual life, on whatever areas of your life need balance and serenity. Picture yourself in a calm, peaceful, natural setting. After a quiet night of slumber in your own room, you decide to take a walk, maybe walk the labyrinth, enjoying all that nature has to offer. You pause to sit on a bench for a while, perhaps you read a favorite book, or take time to write thoughts into a journal you started today, but most of all, you are taking time, precious time, just for yourself. (Are you starting to feel relaxed now?)

Retreats can be for a single day, a weekend, a week or a month … whatever you need to bring your life back into stability and a sense of true equilibrium. Most retreat centers typically include three hot meals a day with overnight accommodations in a single or double room, with inside lounges and outdoor nature trails specially designed for pensive, thoughtful getaways. Most have spiritual directors available as an optional service, who are individuals trained in ministry and communication skills, with resources in Scripture, spirituality, and prayer. Retreats can be private (individuals with or without spiritual direction), group programs, or directed (a week or more of quiet reflection plus daily meetings with a spiritual director).

Simply getting away to a peaceful atmosphere can do wonders in reducing the negative effects of stress in our lives. After all, aren’t you worth it?

Dr. Nancy P. Askins is a master trainer & facilitator serving as executive director of the  Center of Renewal Retreat & Conference Center at Stella Niagara. Contact the Center of Renewal at (716)754-7376.