I am taking a brief departure today to address stress. In the last two weeks, I’ve had a surge of clients making last minute appointments to cope with feelings of elevated anxiety and stress over the current political climate. I’ve shared this information so much in private sessions that I feel it may be beneficial to help alleviate accruing tension for any of us.
Any time your brain perceives a threat it stimulates the flight or fight response (FOFR) – there doesn’t have to be a REAL threat – just a perception of one. The FOFR is a series of chemical reactions in the brain that activates the sympathetic nervous system by pumping adrenaline into the bloodstream creating a faster heartbeat, higher blood pressure, faster respiration, etc… That’s the first thing and it happens in microseconds – before your eyes or ears fully process what is happening. To keep you in a state of readiness, more chemical reactions take place until the adrenal gland starts to produce cortisol. It is cortisol that sustains your readiness.
Our bodies are not designed to sustain high levels of cortisol. In fact, a continuously elevated level of the stress hormone can suppress the immune system, increase blood pressure, impact sleep, cause weight gain, impact your libido, and much more.
Typically, after the threat passes, our parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) naturally takes over, returning our heart rate and breath to normal.
When we don’t get a break between perceived stressors, we need to FORCE our bodies to chill out. The chemistry works like this: By extending your exhale longer than your inhale – the vagus nerve is activated and signals your brain to activate the PSNS, calming you down.
I know some people can’t pull themselves away from news or are surrounded by people who have differing opinions and so they stay stressed. Aside from the obvious… get away from news and people who suck your strength…. There is another solution to offer immediate relief…
I recommend the app RELAX LITE to everyone I see who has difficulty with stress.
I love it because it has calming music and a great visual to follow. Let’s face it, when we are stressed, it can be hard to find focus without a little help. Relax Lite has offers both breathing and meditation. Start with the BREATHING.
Choose Beginner – and then set the length of time you want to focus on your breath. Even 5 minutes at a time is helpful. Start there. LEVEL THREE is designed specifically to induce the PSNS by extending the exhale longer than the inhale.
Sit quietly for a minimum of five minutes even if you must lock yourself in the bathroom stall at the office or on the pot at home. No excuses!
High levels of cortisol prevent melatonin production so you may find that you have a hard time getting to or staying asleep. Here are a couple of quick tips:
No news or bright lights at least two hours before bedtime.
Use a meditation CD or app as you lay down – guided meditations that use progressive relaxation are great!
Make sure you have actively made an effort to engage your PSNS.
Use synthetic melatonin – but sparingly.
Don’t forget to focus on what you DO have control over. Taking control of your body is first and foremost but there are other things as well. When you become proactive on any front, your stress is mitigated!
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