In light of recent events, I wanted to reach out in order to help alleviate your stress. Whether your candidate or political views won or lost is irrelevant. America received a huge wake-up call that’s been in the making for decades. As a nation, the vast majority is fed up with the status quo and wants change. However, change scares many people because it exposes the unknown; causing uncertainty. And uncertainty can lead to stress.
Stress is a measure of your body’s resistance to real or perceived threats or circumstances beyond your control, your “fight or flight response.” Simply put, it is your body’s survival mechanism. Whether it takes the form of anxiety, fear, or being in an uncomfortable situation, stress can manifest physically as a rapid pulse, quick temper, an inability to focus, or extreme fatigue, to name just a few of the symptoms. Stress is a normal part of life. You cannot completely get rid of it; however you must learn to control how you respond to it.
The brain’s Fight or Flight response mechanism is the physiological reaction that happens in response to any perceived threat to survival. According to a Harvard Health Publication’s article, “Understanding the Stress Response”: “When someone experiences a stressful event, the amygdala, an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing, sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. This area of the brain functions like a command center, communicating with the rest of the body through the nervous system so that the person has the energy to fight or flee.” In an emergency or urgent event such as sudden onset of illness, the perceived danger sends a message to the amygdala, and then a distress signal is sent to the hypothalamus. This area of the brain communicates with the rest of your body via the nervous system, controlling heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, and so forth. When this mechanism is repeatedly triggered by the multitude of modern-day stressors, our system gets overwhelmed, our immune system is compromised, and stress-related illness sets in. Combined with less-than-healthy lifestyle choices, this creates a ripe environment for chronic illness to take hold; possibly leading to serious illness and dis-ease.
So what can you do right now to de-stress? Take a breath. “Controlling the breath is a prerequisite to controlling the mind and the body,” according to Swami Rama.
Breath is life. You need to breathe in order to live. It is fundamental in generating energy in your metabolism. Breath is also awareness; it is a way to consciously control your physical and psychological wellbeing. Breath is a physical function that you do both unconsciously and consciously. Namely, it is controllable. So what benefit would you reap from controlling your breath? By breathing mindfully and methodically you will be able to quickly alleviate most, if not all, of the physical symptoms brought on by your stress reaction.
- Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor or on the floor with your legs comfortably crossed. Lift your body (or core) as if you were reaching to the ceiling with the crown of your head. As you relax into this erect posture, feel your heart center facing upward and outward. Namely, you’re not all hunched over and caving in at your stomach.
- Lay your palms gently on your knees. They can be facing upward or downward, whatever is most comfortable for you.
- Gently close your eyes.
- To the count of 5, breathe in. Pause for 2. Breathe out to the count of 5. As you do this, focus on the numbers you are counting and try to feel whether your breath is in your chest or belly.
- After five repetitions, remove the pause and focus on saying to yourself, “Inhale, Exhale” while looping your breath in and out. With each complete in/out breath, try to expand the belly even further; breathing deeply. Your mind may wander to various thoughts and when it does, bring it back to ‘inhale, exhale’ to remain focused.
Once you’ve completed about 10 breath repetitions (about 5 minutes or so), float your eyes open and take stock of how you feel. By being so focused on your breathing your body and mind have most likely responded by calming down. Remember to breathe slowly (without rushing) to avoid the possibility of hyperventilating; which is not what you want.
Now that you are calm and focused, in my next blog post I will discuss how to uncover your resilience amidst the chaos. Stay tuned!
Be Present | Be Purposeful | Be Well