Our biology drives us. It performs functions that we are both aware of and blind to.
Our bodies hold a deep wisdom about our external world. It speaks (sometime screams) at us throughout the day, every day, yet most of us do not listen or acknowledge the message.
Our biology is linked to the evolution and natural selection of our species. It is our genetics and heredity – the driver of our nervous, circulatory, and respiratory systems.
Stick with me here….this isn’t a post per se about biology! It’s about understanding the message our bodies give so that we may live a healthier and longer life.
When we are stressed, our bodies speak to each of us in different ways: our heart rate soars, stomach or chest tightens, we perspire, our breathing is shallow and rapid, our shoulders suddenly are attached to our ears, or (insert your stress reaction symptom here.)
If you have not yet acknowledged how your body speaks to you when stressed, please take note – this acknowledgment and listening can literally save your life!
Stress causes certain hormones in our body to fire and engages the infamous fight or flight response. Having a short burst of these hormones were helpful when we needed to run away from a saber-toothed tiger. Today, we don’t have animals trying to eat us, but we do have our over active thoughts and concerns about money, our job, and relationships. These thoughts cause a constant flow of stress hormones that if not managed will wreak havoc in our bodies.
When we’re chronically stressed we have a 50% reduction in our ability to fight sicknesses. 50%!
Stress can also have an indirect effect on illnesses associated with our coping strategies to stress such as smoking, drinking alcohol in excess, poor eating habits, lack of sleep and lack of exercise.
Okay….I’ll stop being so serious and morbid here! 🙂 My goal was to capture your attention – even scare you a little so that you’ll take note of what stress is doing to your body.
What I find interesting is that we don’t think twice about caring for our teeth, eyes, and annual physical check ups. However, we don’t acknowledge how emotions and reactions to our harried lives increase stress and affect our ability to manage it as well as to think clearly.
Here are a few ways we can reduce stress before and after we experience it:
- Adjust our expectations – are they realistic?
- Learn to say no
- Express your feelings instead of bottling them up
- Avoid stressful people or situations whenever possible
- Be flexible and willing to compromise
- Manage your time better
- Focus on the positives in life
- Learn stress reduction techniques (Yoga, Tai Chi, meditation, breathing)
- Be sociable – spend time with friends
- Forgive others and forget transgressions
- Laugh daily, often, and hard – to the point of tears
- Have a drink a day for women and no more than two for men
- Eat right and drink 8 (8oz) glasses or more of water every day
- Get enough sleep. You know your body the best. Most of us need 6 – 8 hours a day
- Exercise 3 – 5 times a week (30 minutes is enough to ward off illnesses)
How do we manage stress in the heat of the moment?
- Pay attention to what your body is telling you. Notice what is happening – put in place an automatic response to bring your stress down (see next items)
- Count to 10 and breathe. Next time you feel uptight take a moment or two to breathe deeply and slowly. In through your nose, out through your mouth – breathe in hard enough to raise your diaphragm as high as it will go
- Talk it out. Ask questions to clarify your understanding. Respectfully share your thoughts and feelings rather than keep them bottled up.
- Go to your happy place. Close your eyes for a moment, feel, smell, and sense your happy place. Let it wrap you like a warm blanket, let it help you to slow your breathing and heart rate, pull your shoulders out of your ears, calm your stomach.
- Get physical. Have a stress recess! Get up and move when you are sitting for too long. Take regular short brakes. Do something that brings you joy, makes you smile, laugh, etc.
- Look for the positives. Take off those dark negative thought shades and let the light back in. Changing the way we think is a huge driver of stress management. Focusing on the positive in any situation begets more positive thoughts and feelings
Understanding how our biology drives our emotional wellbeing helps us to care for our stress the same way we do for our teeth and bodies. We brush our teeth and wash our hair and bodies for daily good hygiene. Why should the management of our stress each day be any different?