Hello out there!
I’m Alicia, blogging over @ inhealthyhabitswetrust.com about my journey to health. I am beyond flattered that Susan asked me to guest blog for her while she’s off enjoying summer on a seafood-less roadtrip.
Susan and I have the pleasure of living with anxiety attached to our hips, so it felt obvious to write about our common enemy: stress.
Since the dawn of man, the body’s nervous system has been hard wired to find danger and do whatever it takes to get rid of it. There’s a designed negativity bias at play and it originates all the way back to primitive ages when nearly everything in those days was a threat (dinosaurs, meteors, fire, you name it).
Our nervous system is looking out for danger 24/7 and a physiological response to said danger is already alerted well before the “oh sh*t” thought happens in our heads. This means that by the time you recognize you’re stressed, your body is already in fight or flight mode to keep you in the “safe zone”. When our body is in this moment, we are very limited in our mental thinking (remember, body is ready for fight or flight only). This narrow focus reduces our ability to think of creative solutions to our stressors, so we respond in the same limited ways to each stressor and thus the cycle of stress keeps coming back over and over and over again.
Learning about my body’s hard wired prevention mechanism was a light bulb moment: finally I understood why I “run away” or try to isolate myself from stress and people. Life experiences of hurt and pain caused by loss has turned into a nervous system response to do whatever it takes to avoid loss again. This has led to a constant struggle with building connections and closeness to the people in my life – which you can imagine is a big obstacle in my journey to being emotionally healthy. Until I learned that I’m programmed to fear anything that could lead to a loss, I felt confused and quite honestly, a little mental. But now that I have an explanation to why I respond the way I do (flight), I am better equipped to try and work through my fears, rather than let them beat me down.
Our body’s constant need for safety makes it hard, very hard, to just be steady. And if you’ve made it this far in my post, I’m sure you know exactly how this constant rocking feels. Wouldn’t it be great to feel calm waters, if just for a minute?
If you answered yes, listen up! There are ways to teach your nervous system that you are not in danger 24/7! When you recognize the stomach dropping sensation of stress, you have about 6-10 seconds to settle yourself and tell your body there is no danger. Think of this moment like a “reset” button for your body. If you can take the 6-10 seconds your body needs to reset back to “no danger imminent”, we can start to break the stress cycle that has come to be so normal in our lives.
Here are a few techniques to practice during those 6-10 seconds of reset time:
1) Belly breathing - This is the way we are designed to breathe – inhale so your belly expands (not your lungs!) and exhale so your belly contracts. Stress makes us contract, so breathe deep from the belly to expand your cavities and let go of tension.
2) Focus on love - Focus on someone you truly adore (lover, family member, friend, whoever) while you’re belly breathing. When we bring love and abundance into our body, our body opens up and releases threat.
3) Give thanks - Meditate on things you are thankful for during belly breathing. This can be as basic as the food you had for breakfast, the ability to walk or for the blue sky above your head. Savor how good your body feels in this state and how good you feel as tension releases.
4) Slow down - Just chill for a moment! We’re always rushing about, never giving our body a chance to reset from activity to activity. So transition into the next activity or part of your day slowly. Try getting out of your chair quietly and attentively the next time you leave a meeting or even get up from the couch.
After all of this stress education, I realized that if I am truly earnest in wanting to bust my stress cycle, I have to make it a priority to take the time to reset my body. Otherwise, my body will keep responding in the way it always has (running away). So no more excuses. No more “I don’t have time” mantras. I need to just do it. And so do you. I know I’ll thank myself later, and you’ll thank you, too.