Manage Self: Not Stress
What is Stress?
Though humans have evolved from primitive ways of living to an urban lifestyle, our biological reaction to a threat situation has not undergone much change. When a threat situation is sensed, perceived, or interpreted; a chain reaction involving a series of biological reactions is triggered in the body. The result is a release of ‘Stress hormones’ called adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are meant to be released in the form of short bursts and that is fine, however, modern stressors are different from primitive stressors e.g. threat of coming face-to-face with a wild animal can be short-lived as one will outrun the other sooner or later, the situation will ease out rather quickly. Compare this to modern life stressors where working hard continuously in order to climb the corporate ladder or to retain the job or position or having to live in a lonely environment due to social distancing, can get prolonged over a longer period of time.
Stress and Modern Lifestyle
Modern lifestyle has something simmering all the time and Adrenaline and Cortisol that were meant to be there in short bursts for a short duration, are now present in smaller quantities but all the time. This is extremely harmful.
Net-net, our reaction to stressors may have been a gift from nature and our ancestors but we are yet to adapt it to the challenges of modern lifestyle. We need to adopt certain tools and techniques that will keep stress hormones in balance.
How Stress Hormones impact our bodies?
The body’s stress-response is supposed to be self-limiting and should subside once the Stress inducing situation normalizes. This means that Cortisol and Adrenaline levels need to be balanced at all times normalizing the heart rate and blood pressure besides other vitals. But when there is a continuous feeling of busyness, worry, and tension, it has a far-reaching impact on our psychological and physical health and the effects can manifest in the form of many forms of dis-ease.
Higher levels of Cortisol in the bloodstream can cause the following:
High blood pressure
Increased levels of thirst and urge to urinate often
Mood swings, feeling irritable or low
Rapid weight gain on the face and abdomen
Bruises or stretch marks appearing on the skin
Decreased sex drive
Foggy brain function
Lower levels of Cortisol in the bloodstream can cause the following:
Gradual weight loss
Changes in mood
Skin turning darker
Low blood pressure
Impact gut microbiome
Do we have a way out of Stress response?
The nervous system that triggers Adrenaline and Cortisol in the bloodstream is known as the sympathetic nervous system. The good news is we have been gifted with a fantastic mechanism in the form of our Parasympathetic nervous system too which works in exactly the opposite direction and works towards restoring peace and harmony in our bodies and mind. We only need to understand the techniques to jump-start the Parasympathetic response.
Key techniques to trigger the Parasympathetic Nervous System
We may have little control over the situation, but we can control our response to it. Meditation is one of the most effective ways to restore inner peace and balance. With consistent practice, you will observe that even though situations have not changed, the way you respond to a situation changes dramatically. Meditation helps a great deal in restoring the nervous system, which helps repair the body and prevents the spread of damage to the Body. Some of the tangible benefits of meditation are:
Gives a new perspective on stress-causing situations
Helps develop resilience to manage your stress
Increases the sense of self-awareness
Helps to become mindful to the present
Reducing negative emotions and inculcates a sense of joy
Improves creativity and visualization
An increased level of patience and tolerance
It is observed that a daily practice of meditation for a few minutes helps to reduce the intensity of Stress and makes staying calm a second nature.
Taking up a cautious physical Movement regularly is one of the best ways to relax the body and mind. This can be gymming, tai chi, swimming, cycling, sport requiring movement, walking, or online Yoga. Here is what we need to do:
Have a fitness goal like - weight loss, building muscle, working on the core, building stamina, learning a new sport, etc.
Keep an exercise log at the end of each session. This can be a note on your mobile or a diary briefly mention the duration of your workout, what did you achieve with the workout, any new thought or idea you came across that day. Be creative, concise, and keep it customized and personal.
Make it a point to do physical activity at least 3 hours a week.
Be fully aware of the movements during physical activity. Be one with your body and mind and give it your 100%.
Always start the session with resolve and end with a sense of gratitude and achievement.
Let someone close to you be aware of your resolve and let them nudge you when you hit a low spot and don’t feel like taking the physical activity that day.
Keep experimenting with new ideas to break monotonicity.
The Idea behind Meditation and Movement is to train your mind to be in the moment and connect with your body. Being mindful is essential to calm yourself. It is often observed that stress reaction is triggered by thoughts of a particular situation that happened in the past or about something that is yet to take place. Remember past and future do not exist at present and procrastinating continuously about them keeps triggering the Stress hormones in the body in small or large quantities. The result is a speedy deterioration in health.
There is a lot more that can be done to have a stress-free lifestyle. Here is a list for your reference:
Have someone to talk your heart out to
Choose an affirmation and stick to it
Look for ways to laugh and make others laugh
Appreciate those around you
Be thankful for what you have
Take time out for fun activity
Have a pet
Travel to new places
Avoid spending too much time on mobile and television
Cut down on smoking and alcohol
The rewards of making these small changes to the lifestyle and becoming aware of the Stress signal of your mind and body will not only add years to your life but will add life to those years.
Let us resolve to be healthy, happy and content.