What is stress?
Most people think of their job, final exams, public speaking, bank account balance, or their to-do list when the word stress is mentioned. These are some of the most popular stressors but there are many others that you probably don’t even know about. It’s important to understand that stress is just a response of your body to something that is pushing it out of balance. So, what happens inside of your body when you’re stressed?
Fight or flight
Throughout our evolution, the physiological stress response helped us survive, run away or fight out of a bad situation. And the reaction still works pretty much the same way today. It begins with your adrenal hormones and cortisol rising. As a result, your heart starts beating faster to deliver more blood to the brain and muscles, you start breathing fast and shallow, and your blood sugar rises for more easily accessible energy – all of that to get you ready for a “fight or flight”. The problem is that this potentially life-saving reaction comes at a price. Your body has to down-regulate digestion, libido, and immune function.
Rest and digest
Knowing how the stress response works, it’s easy to see that chronic stress can be very harmful. If you go a month, a year, or your whole life with suppressed digestion and immune function, it’s going to have consequences. That’s why it’s essential to balance your “fight or flight” with a good amount of time spent in “rest and digest” mode. To do that, you need to get rid of as many stressors as you can and become more resilient to those you can’t. Let’s start simple.
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Take a few deep breaths
The first tool you need is a simple way to reduce your cortisol and help you switch to a relaxed state when you get back from work, for example. Stress is associated with shallow, fast breathing through the mouth. Taking a few deep breaths through your nose and including your diaphragm will immediately give your body a signal to relax. Try doing 5 of these breaths first thing when you come home after a busy day.
When you’re stressed, your attention is usually pointed outside, you’re reacting to your surroundings and the outside world. Shifting your attention inward is a fast way to change that. Try this exercise if diaphragmatic breathing is not enough to do the trick.
1. Get in a comfortable position and close your eyes
2. Start paying attention to your body. Focus on your feet and how they feel pressed against the ground.
3. Then continue to your knees and through the rest of your body checking on all your main joints and muscle groups.
4. After that focus on your breath. Don’t try to influence it.
5. Observe yourself inhale and exhale 5 times and open your eyes.