What’s Your Deal?
When my eye starts twitching I know I’ve reached a pretty high level of tension. For some people its trouble sleeping, or headaches, or tight shoulders, or trouble concentrating, or, or, or… Let’s face it, stress affects us all in one form or another. Besides the obvious causes, even happy events, holidays or social gatherings can cause anxiety. It seems we all have our own special way of communicating that stress to ourselves.
Don’t worry (ha-ha), there is a reason for all this. The reaction is called the fight-or-flight response. Whether caused from internal thoughts/expectations, or external immediate danger our body was designed to cope with these “threats.” Basically defined, the body goes into this primitive response mode to cope. Hang on for the ride!
This process starts in our brain; your sympathetic nervous system button is pushed and a cascade of events within your body follows. Adrenaline starts flowing, heartbeat quickens, breathing becomes shallower and more rapid, hearing and vision becomes more acute and so on. Well, that all seems a little extreme, doesn’t it? If we need to jump out of the way of the random crazy driver this is all quite useful, but otherwise we are unintentionally activating this system not even realizing it. You know those little thoughts that make you gasp – did I leave the candle burning, did I lose my keys; or worry – did I get the job, how am I going to afford all these presents. Hello compounded stress.
Luckily, we have what’s called the parasympathetic nervous system that works opposite to the sympathetic nervous system. It tells your body to chill out, have a rest and maybe digest while your at it. Unfortunately, many of us have this constant mind chatter going on that keeps pushing that other button!
So how do we intervene? We start by learning how to communicate with our bodies. Don’t you love it when someone says “just relax”. Easier said than done, believe me, it takes practice and not all of us achieve it in the same way. The key is to find a method you like and recognize when you need to do it. I’m going to list a few and tell you why they help, pick out a couple and give them a try!
Deep Breathing – I mean deep in the belly breathing (not those wimpy light chest breaths). Doing this interrupts the fight-or-flight response and stimulates the parasympathetic system – the one that tells your body to rest and digest. Try resting your hand on your bellybutton and inhaling for 4 seconds while focusing on the breath expanding where you hand is located. Now exhale for 6 seconds. Repeat this 4 more times. Hopefully you can already feel some relaxation benefits.
Exercise – The fight-or-flight response was preparing us to go into a sudden burst of physical movement. By exercising we burn off those stress hormones that were released and stored. Regular exercise is great, but if your running (pun intended) low on time, drop and give yourself 20 quick push-ups or 50 jumping jacks. These quick bursts will essentially answer your stress response and help to neutralize your body. For routine exercise, take your pick, there are unlimited ways to burn off stress and gain all the benefits of physical activity!
Massage – My personal favorite, of course, being a massage therapist. This is a great way to teach your body how to relax and let go. It also reduces levels of cortisol (stress hormones), increases good endorphins, lowers heart rates and decreases blood pressure. Massage can also be good feedback to let you know where you are storing stress. It also helps you learn more about how to listen to your body’s cues.
Meditation – Teaches us how to quiet the endless mind chatter, and achieve our quiet mind. Plus, you can do it anywhere and for as short or long as you need.
Singing, laughing, praying, dancing, yoga, tai chi and more – All of these have attributes to help create calmness within our bodies and mind.
By Alana Simler