Sources of stress are everywhere. They’re at home, they’re at work, and they’re in the traffic jam in between home and work. Why are we constantly in this loop and how do we break out?
Let’s start with a background on stress….
Contrary to popular belief, stress is not inherently bad. Our bodies were designed to respond to stressful, life threatening situations through a process known as the “fight or flight” response. It involves a massive release of hormones which allow us to effectively deal with an immediate stressor. Increased blood pressure and quick energy in the moment get us ready for immediate action, and allow our bodies to run quicker, and act faster.
…but there’s a time and a place for everything….
Did you know there are 2 kinds of stress?
1. Acute stress: acute stress is relatively short lived, thus has no serious “long lasting” effects. This is the type of stress you encounter right before a performance, a big race, or a mentally challenging situation. In these instances, acute stress demands the body create adrenaline. This kind of stress is something our bodies can deal with every once in a while.
2. Chronic Stress: This is the ugly one. This is the type that sticks with you all day and often lasts for weeks, months, or even years. Dreading going to work or constantly worrying about your relationships, and paying your bills…etc is the kind of stress that will run you down and can harm your body and brain. In fact, the constant release of the stress hormone, cortisol, can lead to cell death for brain cells.“It has been estimated that 75 – 90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress related problems.”- The American Institute of Stress
From high blood pressure, to digestive disorders, to coronary heart disease…chronic stress is creeping up all too often in the doctor’s office.
So what can we do?
Stress is something that starts in the head. You can perceive something to be threatening or perceive something to be an exciting challenge…your body knows the difference. Fortunately, your minds can be molded. Think of how your body changes when taking vitamins, taking medicine, or after 5 weeks of working out. The wonderful thing about the human brain is that it too has the capacity to change dramatically. This time, YOU are the doctor. To combat chronic stress, try 1 of the following.
1. Take a deep breath
Breathing takes the body out of the “flight or flight” mode and even protects the brain against some stress hormones released. Deep breaths, even just 3 at a time, can lower heart rate and let your body relax and recover.
2. Experience positive human emotions
Feelings such a love and gratitude are shown to dramatically decrease cortisol production (a stress hormone) and protect brain cells from cell-death
Andrew Newburg, Neuroscientist from University of Pennsylvania has found that those who regularly meditate behave and express emotions in a more positive manner. Biologically speaking, this converts to healthy and protected brain cells. Newberg also found in his studies that meditation reroutes blood flow in our brains from a place that instinctively responds to fear, to a place that supports higher reasoning, social awareness and intuition.
By developing a regular habit of meditation, you “mold” you brain to be in it’s prime state. Consequently, you can respond to stressful events in a clam, rational and productive fashion.
Who knew our brains were so smart? While there are few things you can do to remove stressors all together, give into your brain power: breathe deeply, laugh often and take a daily dose of your ohm medicine.