There is a creepy guy in the dark parking lot while you are walking to your car alone. What happens to your body?
· Breathe faster
· Heart rate quickens
· Muscles tighten
· Jaw clenches
When you experience stress your parasympathetic nervous system, which is active when the body is calm and relaxed and helps the body by digesting food and eliminating waste, “stops” working. When we are afraid, stress is a form of fear, our sympathetic nervous system is intently activated. Our SNS allows us to fight or flee, thus dealing with our threat.
The interesting thing about our bodies is that if the above scenario was just imagined, the body reacts the same way, preparing to fight or flee. Your body reacts to stress the same way- whether the threat is real or imagined. THINK about that for a second. Stress is experienced the same whether the scenario is a creepy guy, your child is boarding a plane without you, a big fat, scary spider is on your pillow, or you are just perseverating on something unpleasant and it’s all in your thoughts. The stress experience is the same for all people, all cultures. Stress does not discriminate. Yet stress is unique in that our personal experiences and our own coping abilities determine how each of us gets stressed. Therefore, not all people will react the same way to a similar stimulus.
Chronic stress is when people experience stress over and over again, real or imagined. Chronis stress has very damaging effects on the body, mind, and spirit. How each of these reacts under stress is listed below.
· Have a compromised immune system, you may experience colds/flus, etc. more often and for a longer duration
· Experience jaw and tooth pain
· Lose you hair or have it structurally altered from the constant barrage of hormones
· Have digestive issues, experience stomach aches and pains
· Experience muscles twitching, especially around the eyes
· Are prone to break out with acne, no matter what age you are!
· Your menstrual cycle may become irregular and cramps may become more intense
· Experience skin rashes and itchiness
· Put on the pounds. Stress tends to make us think we are hungrier than we are, many of us cope by eating more and more as a way to comfort ourselves.
· Can cause neural damage in the brain, killing brain cells
· Experience memory loss
· Increase likelihood of neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s)
· Become more emotional, not as able to use your cognitive thinking skills, in difficult situations
· Experience more frustration
· Less likely to be happy
· Not as likely to be positive about the present moment or the future
· Not as likely to view mistakes as chances to grow and learn, but feel they are determinantal
· Self confidence and self-esteem are weakened
· Have a doom and gloom attitude
· Project a negative and unpleasant aura of energy (not giving off good vibes)
What can you do to help yourself when you experience stress? There are some simple things you can do to combat stress that don’t involve medicating yourself with pharmaceuticals, which have toxic and dangerous side effects. The top 5 that this Ultimate Fit Chick recommends are:
1) EXERCISE- however it is you enjoy becoming physically active. DO IT! From Aerobics class to Zumba. There are so many options. You don’t need to be in a gym or fitness studio to move your body. Go for a walk, take a hike, canoe, rake leaves, shovel snow, go bowling. Get off the coach and STOP MAKING EXCUSES- you’ll feel better in the trifecta- Body, Mind, Spirit.
2) SPEND TIME with LOVED ONES. Did you know that mammals are the only animals that have the hormone oxytocin? Oxytocin is essential for our survival because it is the love hormone. It endures us to each other so that we build strong relationships. Because of oxytocin we help care for and protect one another. When you are feeling stressed, find someone in your tribe that loves you unconditionally (bad mood, drama, and all) and spend time with them so they can remind you how amazing you are and reassure you that you will be alright.
3) NURTURE YOURSELF in MOTHER NATURE. Get outside and experience- with all of your senses, this amazing world we live in. Walk in the woods, go to the river, look for and listen to the birds. “The fresh air will do you good.” Remember hearing that a million times when you were a kid? That’s because our elders knew it was good for us. Fresh air can boast about a host of benefits. It strengthens your immune system (which is compromised when you are stressed). It also good for digestion, improves blood pressure and heart rate, cleans your lungs, enhances mood/happiness, increases our energy level, and improves cognitive functioning!
4) BREATHE and BELIEVE. This is a mantra I tell myself all the time. You might not know me- but I am a firecracker. I set goals and then work my ass off to achieve them. The more challenging the goal, the more pride and self-worth I feel when I am able to conquer it. I NEVER tell myself that what I want is not possible. “If there is a will, there is a way.” This is SOOOOO TRUE! Believe in your own abilities. Believe that you can learn that which you do not know. Believe that with persistence and positivity, you are able to achieve the goals you set for yourself. Believing in yourself combats stress because you know “You got this.”
5) MEDITATE. Why meditate? Meditation is scientifically proven to help relieve stress and anxiety and improve one’s optimism, heath, and happiness. Why wouldn’t you meditate? So many people have the ides that mediation involves clearing the mind of all thought, which isn’t incorrect, that is ONE way to meditate. “Clearing the mind of all thought” is an advanced version of the practice and is usually not what beginners are able to do. Many people give up on meditation because they think it’s the only way. Just like EVERYTHING else in life, there are many variations. I suggest set a timer for one minute (add more time when you are ready) then try of these three “beginner” meditations. ONE. Just focusing on taking deep, slow, full breaths. Notice the sensations your body feels as you breath slowly, deeply, and purposefully. TWO. Rest in a comfortable position. If you think a thought, allow it to pass by like clouds in the sky. Do not judge yourself. Notice that you had a thought and allow it to slip away again, not giving your energy to it during your practice. THREE. Use a mantra like “I am enough” or “I can overcome challenges” to anchor you in your meditation. Continue to think/repeat the mantra over and over again until your practice is over.