Do you know the most dangerous invader that can hurt you? It is not a germ, it is not an accident, and it is not something that someone else is doing to you. It is a word you hear all the time. It is something that we all deal with on a daily basis. What is this crazy, dangerous thing? STRESS!!
Every day our bodies combat different types of stress. Some are physical stressors like gravity or a car accident. The most common kind of stress people think about is physiological stress. Sometimes this is put on you by other people, like your boss, and sometimes it is self-inflicted. Our bodies have an amazing ability to manage stress. We have a brain and a nervous system that regulates stressful situations. I’m sure you have heard of a fight or flight response. This is your sympathetic nervous system kicking in when you are dealing with a scary situation. Your body literally allows you to fight off something or run away from the “stress” that is dangerous to you. As you can imagine, you only want this response when you are in imminent danger. But did you know that your body goes through the same response whether you are being chased by a tiger or stressed by a deadline for work?
How your sympathetic nervous system works
The sympathetic nervous system prepares your body for physical and mental activity. It makes your heart beat faster and stronger, opens your airways so you can breathe more easily, and inhibits digestion. That would make sense if you are getting ready to fight or run away from something really scary. You would want blood pumping to your big muscles and lots of extra air, to be able to run away. This system is really only meant to be temporarily activated until you are out of danger. What do you think happens if this system is activated over a long period of time?
The danger of constantly being in a sympathetic state is it literally wears you down. Your body will start to break down due to stress hormones being released and you will get sick. Remember your brain can not tell the difference between you being in real danger or perceived danger. Unfortunately many times we create stress in our own head. Don’t get me wrong, there are situations to be concerned with and very real stress in our lives, but it is how we deal with the stress that has an impact on our health. There is no way to eliminate stress from our modern lives, but there is a lot you can do to minimize and avoid perceived stress.
Here are my 3 tips on managing stress
- Stop or limit the amount you watch, listen, and read the news and social media
This is a hard one for most people, but the most effective in protecting your mental head space. We are past the days of media outlets being purely information. Imagine a loop playing over and over again saying “things are getting worse.” That is basically what the news is. There are also really amazing things going on in the world, but that just doesn’t sell. Also, you are letting someone else set the tone for your day. If you wake up in a good mood and are thinking positively, what happens when you turn on the news and they are reporting on the next horrible thing happening? Your mood is immediately shifted and your sympathetic nervous system switches on. This can be really damaging to your health. If you are afraid you won’t “be informed”, how about you just try this for 2 weeks? If you don’t feel a difference in your mental state you can always go back to watching the 24 hours of “everything is terrible” loop.
- Go outside by yourself
This can be a hike, a walk, or just sitting in nature. “In a study of 20,000 people, a team led by Mathew White of the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter, found that people who spent two hours a week in green spaces — local parks or other natural environments, either all at once or spaced over several visits — were substantially more likely to report good health and psychological well-being than those who don’t.” Going with people is also great, but if you really want to hit the reset button I recommend at least going by yourself once a week.
I have found that 5 minutes each day of guided meditation is great for my mental well being. I use an amazing app called Insight Timer. The reason I like this app is because it can be really hard for me to “turn off” my mind and all of these meditations are guided. I need someone telling me to focus on my breathing and be present. Dr. Joe Dispenza has dedicated his life on how meditation can literally change your brain. Not just your outlook on life and calmness, but actually change your brain connections through neuroplasticity. If you are interested in his work get the book Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself. When you can change the way your brain functions you can manage stressful situations better and have a higher threshold on what might have made other people “lose it.”
The simple truth is you have control over what you let into your life and how it affects you. There will always be situations that feel out of our control (and maybe they are), but you always have control over how you respond to them.
Here is one last tip. Look at what everyone else is doing and do the opposite. In my life, I have found that if you want an average life and an average experience, then do what the majority of people choose to do. If you want more than that, you will have to think a bit differently. Would you rather be a little weird and happy? Or “normal” and unhappy?
I hope this blog helped challenge you to manage a little bit of stress better in these moderately stressful times. I am always here to support you if you need a little help or accountability. You have the power to make a change! To learn more about me and other ways to manage your stress click here.