Life is stressful. Some of the stress is ongoing, like a chronic condition – a generalized feeling of anxiety, perhaps associated with someone at your job, with a fear of not being able to make your mortgage or rent payment because your work does not provide a steady income. Some of the stress comes and goes – arguments with a family member, the shock of a diagnosis or truly horrible behavior.
When we are stressed our bodies produce stress hormones – cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones cause the blood to move from our brain and digestive system and into our limbs, so we are ready to fight or flee. Yet, the majority of the stress we experience today is psychological, so we don’t disperse the hormones, they just accumulate in our body.
Adrenaline has a short half life and breaks down quickly. The problem is cortisol which takes 24 hours to break down. Which basically means that if you have a stressful moment every day – enough of a reaction to cause you to inhale quickly and spike your heart rate – you are living in a cortisol bath. Your whole body is flooded with cortisol.
This lowers your immunity to common colds, causes hair loss, is responsible for the accumulation of fat around your mid-section and perhaps most importantly means that the blood is not in your brain or digestive system. This means you tend to make bad decisions – about food, sleep, relationships for example, and the blood is not in your digestive system, helping you to process food.
How can we manage this?
The first thing to do is to modulate our breathing. Breath is predominantly an unconscious activity, yet if we focus on it, particularly on lengthening our exhales (which engages the rest/digest system – the opposite of the fight/flight system), we can have a profound affect on our mind-body.
The second is to recognize that we have the ability to control our reactions: we can slow down, acknowledge the situation and think about how it might play out. We don’t need to give in to the negativity: we can contemplate our role and whether we can change the situation. If we can’t change the situation, we can consider what we can do to make it less difficult. Or perhaps how we can reward ourselves for dealing with it.
The third is to avoid reaching for something which essentially blocks out the reaction and creates a negative habit cycle: cigarettes, chocolate, wine. Associating these things with stressful events creates a connection which is really hard to break. We all know people like this: an extra padding around their mid-section, who reach for a glass of wine and cigarette when they are stressed. This inflames our system, making it hard to get healthy and live life to the full. We need to pacify and soothe when we are stressed – not add stimulants and depressives into the mix.
So, next time you are stressed – think about how you can become a diamond!
Copyright YogaBrained LLC, Tamsin Astor 2015.