The stress response is something we all need to understand better. When stress is present, the brain and the body send out signals to prepare for fight or flight. Once the process gets moving, blood pressure and heart rate rise, we might get sweaty, a little shaky, and tense. If the response is not turned down, it gets worse. Systems of the body are affected - the immune, digestive, reproductive, and cardiovascular systems are all being turned down a notch and then another, and another..... If you are not able to turn the stress response down, anger, pain, headaches, upset stomach, high blood pressure, insomnia, illness and disease and more are possible. Even the ability to speak is affected if things are stressful enough. The speech center of the brain is turned down when severe responses are present. Then, oftentimes, it turns into depression as the system feels overwhelmed and decides to shut down - it's just too much to handle!
This system is partially, maybe even entirely, under your control with some training. We can not stop life from throwing stressful and challenging events our way, but we can get through them without all of the deleterious effects of the stress response. What if you could face a stressful work meeting, a difficult family discussion, a challenging situation with a clear mind and a sense of calm and control in your body? Time to start training!
1) Breathe: Think of your nervous system as a water faucet. There is a hot water valve (the sympathetic nervous system) reacting to stress with the fight or flight response. And, there is the cold water valve (the para-sympathetic nervous system) reacting to bring the hot water back to a luke warm temperature. Do this breath awareness exercise. First notice how you feel in the nervous system and explore your breathing until you find a way to turn on the cold water valve and get your mind and body to feel calm. Every time, you want to change the "temperature" of your nervous system, explore the breath until you are in charge.
2) Meditate: Begin with the calming breath. Get yourself in a calm state in mind and in body. Then, imagine a stressful event or challenge - either that you are anticipating or preparing for or one that previously happened. As you imagine the event, keep your breath as a calming agent, allowing you to have the response of your choice - you are able to say exactly the right thing, you don't fly off into a rage, you handle the situation in a calm, cool and collected way. Practice every day for 5 minutes or more for 30 days. You will have a new brain after all that training!
3) Relaxation: Use the breath to relax the whole body, encasing yourself in a blanket of calm. When you feel calm, notice the breath is shallow and gentle. Let that breath continue. Now, scan your body toes up or head down and make sure to eliminate any tension still lingering. Tension in the body communicates stress to the brain and you'll soon find yourself out of that nice calm, peaceful state of being.
4) Cognitive Behavior Therapy: What fires together wires together. Let’s use this brain process to our advantage. Teach your nervous system to associate a stressful event or a challenging event with peace and calm. Practice a calming breath when doing something strenuous or stressful. This is one benefit of running long distances or going through any strenuous training. A sense of staying calm and focused through the most challenging parts of the physical exertion. Not to say the body isn't in high energy mode. It is! But, the mind stays clear, present and calm. It even learns to enjoy the challenge. What you do is practice something challenging and while practicing, keep the breath steady and calm, keep the mind focused on the steady, calm of the breath. You might not be able to stay calm for a while, but keep trying. Keep training. Then once you've got it mastered, start using that same skill during any kind of challenging, stressful, or difficult situation. Spread that calm around!
5) Power Pose: Forearm plank is the perfect pose for practicing a calming focused breath while challenging the body. Hold for as long as you can. Then, begin to challenge yourself to hold for longer and longer times, staying in that peaceful state of mind.
6) Chant: Om shanti, shanti, shanti, Om. This chant has a long, long history of creating peace and calm. Start with a low tone and raise it up gradually toward the last Om. Repeat as often as feels helpful and practice as often as needed.
The only way to change your stress response is to train! Try something on this list everyday. Questions? Contact me: circleofstoneswellness.com