Our brains are busy bees and our bodies are our homes. Our busy bee brains are constantly working to keep the hive alive and well. We spend a lot of time vigorously rushing around from flower to flower, sometimes working in overdrive to provide for the hive.
Evolutionarily, it’s been in our best interest to take note of the thoughts rushing through our brains; you could say it’s a primal instinct to think about potential dangers or negative scenarios so that we can be prepared to survive if they present themselves. However, cavemen and women did not spend time sitting around and ruminating in the ways we do today; instead, they relied heavily on what many of us know as, “fight or flight mode”; this mode can be crucial in keeping us and other animals safe from predators and other dangers.
Prolonged Fight or Flight Mode is NOT GOOD
Fight or flight mode is also referred to as the sympathetic state of the nervous system. When we actually encounter a stress-inducing threat, our brain kicks our body into survival gear with plenty of hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine; our heart starts to beat faster, our muscles tighten, our breath quickens, and our body prepares to run or to fight, so that we have a chance of survival.
Once we know we are out of harm’s way, our bodies should shift back from the sympathetic state to the parasympathetic state, otherwise known as, “rest and digest” mode. However, the modern world and its technology have left us more receptive to perceived threats such as an email from your boss, a text from a disgruntled friend or family member, or just a looming to-do list typed in the notes section on your phone. These perceived threats can be enough to put your body into that fight or flight mode.... and stay there.
Our bodies are not meant to stay in fight or flight mode for very long. Unfortunately, when our bodies are constantly in fight or flight mode (chronically stressed) we become negatively impacted; immune, reproductive, and other important systems and functions are put on the back-burner. Prolonged stress/chronic stress that is left unchecked can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, mental health issues, and a range of chronic diseases. In short, we can make ourselves sick if we do not address our stress. We can allow our stressed thoughts and emotions to manifest physiologically in the body or we can do something about it...
We often revert to two options when dealing with prolonged stress:
1. Repress our thoughts and feelings
2. Let ourselves become overwhelmed and drowning in our thoughts and feelings
Either way we are not properly addressing our stressed state; we are not letting things move out of our brain or out of our body. In order to make real, sustainable changes and to alleviate chronic stress and physical ailments, we must train the neural pathways in the brain with consistent lifestyle improvements and new ways of thinking.
The neural pathways in the brain need to be trained and self-regulated with consistent efforts of meditation and lifestyle improvements.
Try the following to start training and self-regulating your brain:
Our thoughts about our lives (past, present, and future) lead to the creation of our emotions, and our emotions manifest as sensations in the body. When you feel an emotion that is uncomfortable, notice where that sensation sits in your body and breathe deeply into it. Often, people feel “heavy hearts” or tightness in the chest and sternum area. We can hold sadness, shame, guilt, anger in different areas of our body. Many people who are chronically stressed hold their stress in the jaw, the neck, and the shoulders. Doing a quick body scan of where you are holding your emotions in your body can help you pinpoint repressed or overwhelming feelings. Bringing awareness to your body while breathing deeply will help slow your heart rate and release built up pressure.
Listen to Music
Choose music that makes you feel good. The relaxing sounds of birds and babbling brooks might not be your jam and that’s ok. Choose songs that get your head slightly nodding and mouth curving up into a smile. While slow melancholy music or racing rap or rock music might help you express some of those sad or angry emotions, try not to stay in those genres too long when you’re feeling stressed. Take time to switch over to music that is uplifting and allows you to breathe deeply and calmly while you listen.
Move your Body
It’s no surprise that exercise is an easy way to shake off that extra stress. Choose what feels best for your body whether that’s running, weight training, hiking, biking, yoga etc. Even walking for 30 minutes a day can work wonders for your stress. Mostly sedentary lifestyles are no help for your stress. Move your body, preferably outside and in the sunshine whenever you can!
There are so many in-person and online resources to help you learn how to meditate and create a consistent practice. Classes, coaches, and apps are all the rage right now and for good reason! The benefits of meditation are far-reaching and can lead you to a happier, healthier, and more present lifestyle.
Some great sites to check out are:
Insight Timer https://insighttimer.com/
Get to the Root Cause
It’s important to work on getting to the bottom of why you have prolonged stress so that you can better understand and help yourself long-term. While working independently and consistently on your stress is necessary, you should not be alone in the process. In fact, working with others is often essential. Working with healthcare practitioners, therapists, coaches, teachers, friends, and family will help you immensely, especially if you are already experiencing health issues or setbacks.
If you have any questions about stress or how to help your body move out of chronic stress, message us!