I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again… our brains are smart!
Our brains continually monitor for signs of danger even while we sleep. In times of stress or trauma, our brains instantly activates our bodies to prepare to protect ourselves!
Our bodies have responded to stress in the same way since the beginning of time.
Dangers in the prehistoric days were widely different than they are today. These dangers were immediately life threatening. When a woolly mammoth would charge at us, our bodies would prepare itself to either fight or run away.
Today, our bodies physiologically respond in the same way; however, the perceived threat tends to be long-term mental/emotional stress.
Our nervous system continues to respond to present day danger in the same way: By releasing hormones that prepare us to fight or run away. Physical results of this hormone release include:
- Accelerated heart and lung action
- Flushing or paling
- Inhibiting digestion (you don’t need to digest your sandwich when a boar is attacking you)
- Releasing fat and glucose to power your muscles
- Dilation of blood vessels for muscles
- Relaxation of bladder
- Tunnel vision
- And more…
Can you see how these responses would be helpful in a mammoth attack?
Anxiety related health problems exist today because our brains perceive a threat, create the same physiological reaction in the body to deal with that threat, but the threat either never goes away (ex: work stress) or we are unable to physically deal with it (ex: bills).
According to webmd.com, 10 Health problems specifically related to stress are:
- Heart Disease
- Depression and Anxiety
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Accelerated aging
- Premature Death
Slowly but surely, stress will kill us. Today, I would like to share some practical tips to use with your stress and anxiety!
Practical tips to manage your stress and anxiety
This may seem ridiculous until you understand the biology behind the tip. Here is the quick and dirty version: The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is divided into two parts: The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system triggers the fight-or-flight while the parasympathetic nervous system promotes the “rest and digest” response (Harvard Health Publications, 2016). For chronic stress, we need to find a way to cue the body into believing that everything is fine. How do we do this? We breathe slow and deeply… our bodies think we are all relaxed! It doesn’t know we are tricking it!!!! When we take deep, slow breaths, we can convince our ANS that everything is A-Okay. For best results, breathe in for a count of 5, hold for a count of 5, and release your breath slowly for a count of 7.
The most basic way to describe mindfulness meditation is bringing 100% of your attention to your breath. It means learning how to control your busy monkey mind and its crazy, stressful thoughts! Mindfulness doesn’t need to be difficult or stressful. After all, that would defeat the purpose! It DOES have to be practiced regularly to be successful. Read my blog on mindfulness to learn more about how it can help you.
I exercise for my physical and emotional health! I don’t know what I would do without it. The research suggests that engaging in at least 21 minutes of exercise can help with anxiety/stress reduction (Petruzzello, Landers, Hatfield, Kubitz, & Salazar, 1991). I’ve always thought that exercise “completes” the stress response by tricking my body into thinking it has gotten away from the threat! As your body learns to adapt to one form of stress (phycial stress) it will improve its management of other forms of stress (emotional stress).
Nature has wonderful healing qualities! Spending time in nature can have some amazing health benefits. A study by Hansmann, R., Stella-Maria, H., & Seeland, K. (2007), showed that spending time in nature relieved headaches and stress significantly. The results were even better when the subject exercised in nature! Spending mindful moments surrounded by trees, digging in the dirt, or walking barefoot in the grass has a calming effect on your mind.
I encourage journaling in my life coaching practice. I am particularly fond of gratitude journaling and process journaling before bed. The method that would benefit you the greatest would depend on your unique personal needs.
If you feel too stressed to relax, and you KNOW it’s affecting your health, your weight and your energy levels, then schedule a time to talk with me about how to reduce or cope better with the stress in your life.
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