What is stress?
In a nutshell, it is the evolutionary key for our survival.
We launch into fight or flight or even freeze as soon as we perceive a danger. Our heart rate and blood pressure goes up and our breathing capacities increase. We can now run from the danger or drop down and play dead. This reaction is hard wired into our brains and a way of protecting the body from harm.
It may not feel like it at times, but this mechanism is healthy. We need it to survive.
The stress response is a neuronal and hormonal response of the body to restore stability and balance. The response to stress is always the same regardless of the stressor. For example, whether you are too hot or too cold or starving or injured or whether you are having a psychological reaction, your body reacts the same. A stressor is anything that throws your body out of balance. This could be illness, overwork, an injury, toxins, emotional trauma and so on.
Imagine now that you are in a chronic state of stress. Your body is incessantly getting the message that it needs to run, or freeze or that it is about to die. All your resources are going to your muscles, to take in as much oxygen as possible for a dash. Your cardiovascular system is ramping up. Your heart rate increases, blood pressure goes up to send as much blood as possible to the surrounding limbs to activate running. As a result, blood flow to your digestive organs and kidneys is minimized. All parasympathetic activities of the body — digestion, growth, reproduction, tissue repair, immune function — are stopped so that you can run better. No routine maintenance of our systems can take place; all the energy is sent to the “Get out now” systems. It’s not a state that can be maintained for any length of time.
Normally the body will return to baseline within a half hour, but if your stress response keeps spiking then it will take longer and longer to recuperate.
Our ancient ancestors benefited from this response to survive threats in the environment. Our modern day stressors are not as life threatening, yet they often have an equally intense physical response and impact on the body. Our belief systems, emotions and our memories can illicit the same response as a tiger standing in front of us. And worse yet, our body and brain cannot distinguish between a real life threat and a perceived threat. Just thinking about a major deadline looming next week can drive you into a hyperventilating panic. Experiencing chronic and prolonged stress will not serve you.
So what can you do about the stressors in your life to reduce the impact on your health and body?
Here are a few quick remedies for when you find yourself going into fight, flight or freeze:
- Recognize the feeling — Tell yourself “I am stressed.” That recognition alone helps you to feel more in control and reduce the stress response.
- Check back with your body — What bodily sensations am I having right now? Determine where you are feeling the stress and note when that particular feeling happens regularly.
- Slow down your breathing – Studies show that we can not maintain stress and elevated stress responses when we are actively breathing. Six deep in-breaths and exhales will calm down your system.
- Exhale more than inhale –– When you exhale more than you inhale, you are activating the parasympathetic recovery state which means that your body is beginning to heal and rebuild itself.
- Focus on your heart — Using your heartbeat as a meditative focusing device allows you to calm yourself and get back to a more neutral state. Listen to its beat, and picture the heart itself as a muscle. Imagine being able to relax it like you would any other muscle of the body.
- Synchronize your breathing with your heart beat – The conscious act of noticing your heart beat and your breath and working to create a rhythm allows you to slow your heart rate and get back in balance.
- Let the feeling spread throughout your body – This may seem counter intuitive, but as they say “What you resist, persists”. Allow the feeling to wash over you and you’ll be amazed at how quickly it starts to dissipate. The more you fight it, the more it remains; but by paying attention to the feeling and letting it be and accepting rather than fighting the sensation, the more quickly the stress will settle.
For those of you who have worked with me or are familiar with Bodytalk you could tap out your cortices. And if you are familiar with the Invizion process you could visit your sanctuary.
Then check yourself. Has the stress subsided? Or are you still feeling tense? It could be your own inner voices that are keeping the stress going. Ask yourself if you are fully present in the moment. Or are thoughts hounding you about how things SHOULD be? Are there voices letting you know that you are failing, not good enough?
Give the thoughts and voices some space, maybe move them to the side and give them space there. Or look at them from above then, go back to the rhythm of your heart.
Being aware of the stresses and the effect they have on your body is important in order to reduce the strain on you physically and emotionally. You can lessen the impact if you take a beat and become aware. There are so many stressors in our lives and many of them come from our own inner triggers and our subpersonalities. More on that later in another blog post.
If you have questions, or want to work more specifically with thoughts and sub personalities as well as triggers, please contact me.