By Holly Konrady, M.Ed., E-RYT 500
The roller coaster ride is about to start. There are people sitting in the back rows already holding the bar with white knuckles and gritting their teeth; the people in the front are laughing and throwing their arms in the air with anticipation of an exhilarating ride; the people in the middle seats vary from looking bored to chatting nervously, while others wait patiently for the ride to begin.
This illustrates a spectrum of stress. Each person’s perception of the ride determines how they go into it- and their response depicts a level of stress, some positive and some negative… maybe even pure fear. This analogy illustrates how stress varies for people in everyday life with all situations- challenges, changes, and demands.
We hear stories about people who have super strength to save their life or others’ and that is because of the fight or flight response and its’ amazing design to aid survival. A threat (maybe a roller coaster ride) is perceived, and the brain sets off an alarm system in your body. Adrenaline and cortisol surge to put our bodies and minds into fight or flight. Breathing accelerates for more oxygen to the brain for alertness, the heart rate and blood pressure increase in order to send more blood to the heart and other muscles for more strength, endurance and energy to survive. When the event is over, our bodies and minds eventually return to a more peaceful state.
With modern day stressors, like floods of emails, texts, news alerts, traffic, finances, or relationships- that never end, the stress response is the same as for survival (above). It’s like a car idling too high for too long and we can’t turn it down or off. Depending upon our perception of any situation we can make peace with it or allow these stressors to affect our everyday lives. When we are under long term stress immune function, digestion, and growth are altered, because who needs these functions when trying to survive- momentarily, but in the long term, we need these to live. Over time, our thoughts and perceptions in our minds can cause anxiety, agitation, depression or worry and continue to run a story that we get stuck in.
Awareness is the first key to management of stress. Know what your stress looks and feels like, then identify triggers as it is possible to avoid stress, for example, if you don’t like the way you feel on a roller coaster- don’t ride it! If unavoidable, reach for tools such as mindfulness techniques or meditation (interchangeable). Being mindful is paying attention on purpose to what is happening in the moment without judgement- and with acceptance- hence, lean into the feeling of stress instead of running away. Return to the body as a way of knowing what is going on rather than run a story about it. Use anchors for your mind, such as external sounds, sights, tastes, smells or feel body sensations, like breathing or feel specific physical points. The moment the mind strays (and it will!) draw the mind back to your anchor.
Here are 10 techniques to try when you are feeling stress, but don’t wait for stress- practice when you’re not feeling stress, so you are prepared when you really need it. Some of these are mindful techniques for staying in the moment (get out of your head) anywhere that you are. Others offer a more sedentary way to connect to your body and mind.
If you are feeling unsettled in your body and sitting still is difficult- move first: exercise or dance in your living room; set a timer for 10 minutes and clean your house without stopping or take a brisk walk outdoors.
Of course, healthy lifestyle habits contribute to how you feel every day.
You can’t change that life is stressful, but you can change how you respond to it.
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