“If you don’t think your anxiety, depression, sadness and stress impact our physical health, think again. All of these emotions trigger chemical reactions in your body, which can lead to inflammation and a weakened immune system. Learn how to cope, sweet friend. There will always be dark days.” ~ Kris Carr
In an earlier blog, I mentioned that stress was harmful to your body. I didn’t go into detail in that blog because stress is such a big deal it deserves its own blog.
So here we go…
Stress: the Silent Killer. *Dun dun DUN!*
When I tell clients about stress, I give them a general description of why stress is harmful that goes like this:
Our body was created back in the caveman days and, even after evolution, our body is wired the same. So, back in our caveman days, as we were out hunting and gathering, we sometimes ran into danger. For instance, a bear might jump out of the woods.
In that instant, our bodies switch from rest and digest mode to fight or flight mode. Powerful chemicals are released to prepare the body to either fight the bear or run like hell. These chemicals increase blood pressure, blood sugar and the respiratory system in order to prepare the muscles for extreme use. Adrenaline is released to prepare for quick reactions. More chemicals are released so the pupils dilate to improve vision and the brain tells the digestive system to shut down to conserve energy for dealing with the immediate, life threatening danger of the bear running toward us.
That is some serious and abrupt change to the body. So serious that it is meant to last only a short period of time. And once the danger is over, the body needs to chill out to help flush out all those chemicals. So next time you have a near miss while driving, you might pull over and give yourself a moment to take some deep breaths and recoup.
Modern stress is the body constantly being in flight or fight mode. When something serious happens in our life, like the loss of a job, you start thinking, “How am I going to survive?” Your body doesn’t know the difference between the threat of a bear and the threat of bankruptcy. The same chemical reactions occur. And, as you just found out, that reaction is serious to the body. It is meant to last a small amount of time. Not a day, or a week, or even months. That kind of pressure on the body, all those chemicals constantly flooding the body, is going to do some serious damage. High blood pressure, respiratory problems, digestive problems to name a few. For an in-depth view of just how damaging it can be, check out this 5 minute YouTube video.
So, you see, stress is a serious thing. It’s like constantly running your car at 7000 rpm; you are going to blow your engine eventually. Our bodies are the same.
As a side note, do you find it interesting that most people treat their cars better than their bodies? Just a thought. Anyhoo…
Our modern day living is full of stress. Even if you consider some of this stress “1st world problems,” as I pointed out earlier, our bodies don’t know the difference. So how do we cope? How do we combat the threat of living in fight or flight mode 24/7.
The biggest thing I always tell my clients, and I am now telling you, is that even a 1 to 5 minute rest can make all the difference.
Sometimes we think that if we don’t have the time for an hour yoga session, or an hour massage, or even a 15 minute meditation, then what’s the point? Why bother? It won’t make a difference. I’m here to tell you that is DOES make difference.
Think about when you are writing with a pen for a long period of time. At some point, your hand starts to hurt. The common reaction is to set the pen down, shake out your hand, and then continue writing. It takes just a second. But what would happen if you didn’t take a second to lie the pen down and shake out your hand? What would happen if you just kept writing? Your hand would cramp up, that’s what would happen. And then you could not continue writing.
Our entire body is like this. Just taking a moment to take a break can make a huge difference. As an experiment, set the timer on your phone for 1 minute. During that minute, just close your eyes and breathe. Take full breaths in and out. Keep your focus on taking those deep, full, relaxing breaths. When the timer goes off, notice how you feel? Do you feel different? (Take it one step further and try smiling for the that minute while taking deep breaths. I bet you feel even better!)
Take this concept to a bigger scale. Sometimes we think that if we can’t go to a yoga class every day, or meditate every day, then what’s the point? It won’t make a difference. I’m here to tell you that it will. It will make a huge difference every time you take time for yourself, whether it’s once a week or 7 days a week.
So, to wrap up what I’m trying to say, you need to take time to allow your body to switch from fight or flight to rest and digest. Whether it is one minute, or an hour, or a whole week on vacation. And if you don’t, well…let me tell you about planning my wedding.
I planned our wedding over a 10 month period. As the wedding date got closer, so did the stress of things that needed to be done. The week leading up to my wedding, my brain blew a fuse. Literally. (After the wedding, my clients confessed they were laughing at me a bit because I was such a nutcase.)
Anyway, I knew I had blown a fuse in my brain. I called my chiropractor and got in right away to see him. I walked in and he said, “Get on the table.”
I said, “Don’t you want to know what’s wrong with me?”
He said, “Nope.”
After looking me over, he said, “The left side of your brain isn’t working.”
“I KNOW!” I instantly said, “That’s why I’m here!” I had obviously been in fight or flight mode way too long.
The wedding went splendidly. And my new husband and I were whisked away in a limo to the airport the next day to fly to Mexico.
The first three nights of our honeymoon I had a hard time falling asleep. My brain kept spinning on things that needed to be done. By the second night, I realized that my brain was a stuck in “do, do, do mode.” By night four I was able to fall asleep. It took that long for my body to unwind from all the stress. All because I hadn’t taken a moment to relax and not fret about something for 10 months.
How different would it have been if I had been more self-aware and taken time to relax during those 10 months? I bet I would have slept better the first night because my body would be able to switch back to rest and digest mode much easier – because I had been practicing it all along.
So, please, take time for yourself no matter how short it is.
Here are some suggestions on ways to give your body a break and move toward rest and digest mode.
- Download the app “Insight Timer” on your phone. With this app, you can set the timer for 1 minute or 60 minutes to take time to breathe or do a full on meditation. This app also has guided meditations you can listen to for easier meditation. Specifically, search for “yoga nidra” and “body scan” meditations. These type of meditations are fantastic for relaxing the body.
- Find an exercise you enjoy. It can be walking around the block, going to the gym, or even dancing to your latest favorite song.
- Hang out with friends. Studies have shown that venting to a friend is extremely helpful for relieving stress and much more effective than having a drink or getting high.
- Find a hobby. I’m always talking about discovering what you are passionate about. Maybe it’s watching Star Trek or reading Star Trek stories. Maybe it’s painting garden gnomes. Maybe it’s making fishing flies. Maybe it’s writing haiku poems. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it is yours; as long as it is something you truly enjoy doing.
- Be out in nature. Studies have shown that being in nature does something to the body that nurtures and relaxes it. And it needs to be real nature, whether it is being in the woods, a park, or your back yard. Looking at a picture of a mountain scene does not have the same reaction.
All of my suggestions above can be done for 1 – 5 minutes. On your break at work you could look up where the next Star Trek convention is, or read some Star Trek fan fiction. Dancing to your favorite song doesn’t take a lot of time. Neither does stepping outside to breathe some fresh air. And a quick phone call to a friend can make all the difference in the world. Even if they don’t answer, venting on their voicemail can help.
So there you have it, my Yoga Nerd friends! Stress is the enemy. But it can be a toothless lion when dealt with consciously.
May you all be in Rest and Digest mode!
What do you do to relax after a stressful day? What do you do to take care of yourself? To keep sane? We, the Yoga Nerd community, would love to hear what you do. It might help someone else! So feel free to comment below or email me at email@example.com.
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