Stress has reached epidemic proportions in our world. It does much more to our body than merely consume our thoughts- infact 95% of all sickness is said to be attributed to our bodies incapacity of dealing with stress!
Are you sick of the headaches, the chronically tense muscles, the high blood pressure, the digestion issues or lack of sleep? If you could create a life where stress really did not negatively effect your body anymore- what do you think that would feel like?
Peaceful. Calm. Focused. Relaxed. That’s what!
Walter Cannon was the first to describe and name the ‘fight or flight’ response back in 1915. This is a natural bodily reaction that occurs in response to perceived ‘danger’ and also expresses when we start to feel stressed.
This stress response served us positively in pre-historic times, when our body diffused the response in a physical way and utilised the hormones and energy productively, by fighting for our lives, or fleeing predation or agression. Once the threat was gone, our bodies automatically resumed what is known as the relaxation or ‘rest and digest’ mode.
Now, however, we can be triggered into the fight or flight stress response by a range of mental and physical experiences in daily life, which of course do not require physical exertion to overcome the stressor. Therefore we can become effected negatively over time, from the excess secretion of the hormone Cortisol from our adrenal glands which does not get dispersed quite as it would if we turned stress into a physical activity. A host of other side effects can begin to effect us also, such as increased heart rate and blood pressure; lowered metabolic rate; increase of blood sugar levels; digestive malfunction; lowered immunity; excessive muscular tension;and many other possible related chronic disorders effecting us physically and mentally, such as asthma, allergies and skin complaints; chronic fatigue syndrome; cushing’s syndrome; anxiety and panic disorder.
Our stress response can be activated simply by worrying about the future, thinking about a stressful memory and experience from our past, sitting in peak hour traffic, having a disagreement with our spouse, or churning over in our mind negative thoughts too frequently.
The key is to become aware of those times we are beginning to feel our own unique symptoms of stress response- to become our own ‘stress detective’! We may clench our jaw, purse our lips, slump excessively as though the ‘weight of the world’ is on our shoulders, tap or pull at our fingers, suffer neck tension/headaches, feel chest tightness, be over–reactive to things said to us, sigh a lot, shallow breath, experience indigestion or constipation, become impatient or anger very quickly… the list goes on and on and on. Personalise this list! Next time you have expressed frustration, become swept up in negative mind talk or felt overwhelmed, try to become more conscious of how your body feels.
Write down your stress symptoms. Then change your body posture. If you are sitting, stand up- or if you are slumping, sit up straight and roll back your shoulders- ideally, take yourself off for a walk or short burst of exercise out in the fresh air, as this enables your body to actively disburse your stress in a physically effective manner and stimulates your senses in a positive way. Otherwise, if this is not an option, continue to undertake the following actions….
Screw your whole face up into a contorted, squint/grimace and release-repeat twice more. I would like you to take just 60 seconds to focus on your breathing-taking one slow deep breath at a time counting to 5 on the in breath and 5 on the out breath. As you breath in, imagine the breath pouring deeply into your lower abdomen first, then filling your stomach and chest. As you breath out allow your lower abdomen to deflate first, then stomach, then chest. Close your eyes and continue doing this deep breathing for 5 breaths altogether. Next, take another 60 seconds and undertake what’s called the ‘shakedown’– begin to shake your hands vigorously, then arms, shoulders, do a few shoulder lifts and drops, shake one foot, leg, your bottom, other foot and leg and keep circulating between all the parts of your body-just for 60 seconds.
As you can see, deep breathing and a ‘shake down’ does not take long to do, but it forces your mind and body to resist the stressed posture and re-focus the thoughts you were feeling to encourage a ‘letting go’. This practice can genuinely help with the stress symptoms we are sensing, as it will help to lessen the gradual build up and escalation of stressed feelings that grow throughout your day, leading to greater degrees of stress. It assists our body to recognise signs of stress and trigger a return to a more relaxed state.
It must not be underestimated either, the power of exercise and a healthy, wholesome, nutritious diet, as both crucial factors in increasing your optimal brain function and overall resilience. If our bodies do not receive the right daily fuel, nutrition falls short and our nervous system’s reserves run low- especially when we are enduring circumstance which are pressing it’s buttons- it is inevitable that you will not be as capable of coping with stressors at play in your life. Existing on fast food or even incorporating a lot of processed ingredients in meals you create, will likely deprive you of the vitamins and minerals your body requires. It is also essential to ensure an adequate intake of 1-2 litres of fresh water daily (over and above any other forms of liquid drank, such as juice, tea, coffee, soft drink.) We can also increase our resilience by taking regular exercise in the open air, which can be extremely helpful to us in the middle of our work day if possible. This serves the purpose of changing our environment; providing our body and mind with fresh oxygen which stimulates our thinking processes; assists us to change our mental focus for a short period and releases endorphins which help us to feel more relaxed, happier and more energised. Just going for a 5-10 minute walk can work wonders! In addition to this, partaking of other regular exercise habits that last for 20-30min. three times a week is equally important- but try to make it something you enjoy and look forward to.
Other methods that are very effective and preventative in protecting our bodies from engaging the fight or flight response at all, or at least severely reducing the frequency, are one or more of the following activities undertaken for at least 10-30minutes every day:
♥Progressive Relaxation ♥Meditation
and ♥Deep Breathing (in combination with meditation/progressive relaxation).
The following is a Progressive Relaxation Exercise as an MP3 for you to listen to, so you can get going straight away- it is less than 12 minutes long, but will provide you with well earned time out and my voice will guide you through this progressive exercise that works wonders to help disperse your pent up muscle tension. For best results use this exercise once every day for at least 2 weeks- by this time your brain will be recognising tension as it starts to develop, enabling you to release it more effectively before it builds up.
After 2 weeks, you can also choose the option of tensing and releasing larger groups of muscles together- for example, instead of contracting individual muscles of your feet, then calves, knees, thighs and buttocks,(as in this guided exercise above) you can choose to contract all of these muscles in one movement and then release, but still gain the same benefits as the original full exercise. Of course you do not need to shortcut like this and many people choose not to, but if you are short of time, or planning to meditate, you can use this alternate shortened version instead as a prelude to your meditation session.
Tom Cronin is a well renowned Australian Meditation teacher who runs “The Stillness Project”. He certainly had his fair share of ‘stress demons’ to work through many years ago, but luckily he succeeded in surmounting his challenges of anxiety disorder, agrophobia and clinical depression gallantly and with wisdom, through learning to integrate a special, simple method of meditation and experiencing first hand the amazing healing benefits. Take a look at this very short video where Tom introduces himself…
He runs ‘in person’ workshops at key venues and locations across the globe and also an online meditation program to suit anyone dealing with stress- even those who have never experienced success meditating, you may just find his form of approach easy, unique and effective. Remember- you don’t have to be stressed to gain value from meditation, as it is one of the most understated and important activities to: assist both mind and body health, access personal insights from a relaxed but focused center and is a proven, powerful way to help prevent disease. Meditation also assists us to maintain an easier state of calm as we move through our daily tasks and challenges, when we adopt it as a regular habit of even just 10 min. per day. It is this ability to balance our state of resilience and negate our tendency to over-react to events as we are exposed to them, that I think makes meditation SO powerful. Basically, it helps us to cope better with whatever life throws at us! That’s gotta be good. 😀
You can CLICK HERE if you would like to hear more about Tom Cronin’s meditation methods and discover just how meditation will reduce your stress levels and reinvigorate the level of Love and Happiness you feel in your life right now.