Let's talk about stress - and the day I was almost driven into the ocean!
There is no doubt that most people are feeling stressed as they have never before, especially given the changes in our individual worlds over the last couple of years.
According to recent studies
- 1 in 5 Australians are experiencing high levels of stress
- 25% of Americans are saying their are dealing with high levels of stress
- other countries have varying levels of increase
These numbers are not surprising considering all we deal with in our everyday lives, and how our own worlds have changed over the last few years.
While stress isn’t always a bad thing - i.e. starting a new job, planning a wedding, etc - the stress from these can actually help motivate you, though long-term stress can take a toll mentally and physically on your health.
How are we responding?
Research has found that when it comes to taking up unhealthy habits to destress, more people are taking to their couches (sofas for my US friends) with:
57% binge-watching shows
43% stress eating
22% excessively drinking, and
15% online shopping
What does our body actually do during stress?
First, it triggers ‘fight-or-flight’ survival mode - this was brought down from our ancestors who found stress was helpful for survival to avoid real physical threats ;)
Fight-or-flight is the actual chemical changes going on inside your body - either preparing it for action - or to freeze.
The day I was almost driven into the ocean...
I’m usually an ‘action’ type of person, however, I do remember experiencing the freeze once when on a holiday in the Caribbean my family and I were in a mini-van after an island trip, and the lady reversing the van back down the pier to the ship got out, but hadn’t put on the handbrake properly.
The mini-van started rolling down the pier backward towards the ocean. I remember a wave of terror moving downwards through my body and all I could do was put my arms around my girls (one on each side of me) and hold them as tight as I could against my body. I simply couldn’t move.
I am so thankful my husband was also in the van and immediately jumped over the seats into the driver's seat, knocked the van out of gear, and put the brake on. After the shock, tears, - and mother guilt that all I did was freeze - I was absolutely fascinated by how in one situation two people had both ends of the fight-or-flight experience.
I discovered later that my freeze actually helped my daughters feel calm and confident while dad sprang into action.
When you encounter a stressor a chain of events in your body occurs:
- An area of your brain called the amygdala processes the emotion
- It sends a signal to your brains' command centre called the hypothalamus about whether it is dangerous
- The hypothalamus connects to the rest of your body via breathing and heartbeat to signal two more systems to kick in.
- One will give you extra energy to respond to the threat and the other will send your body into ‘rest and digest’ so you can feel calm.
Clearly, during my experience, my body decided to rest and digest while my husband's body responded to the threat!
How is your body affected by stress?
Here are some of the short-term, and long-term effects of exposure to stress:
Musculoskeletal system - short term your muscles can tense up and release, or long term muscles that are always tense develop problems like tension headaches and migraines
Respiratory system - short term your breathing is harder and faster, and can cause some to hyperventilate (which can also cause panic attacks), or long-term getting enough oxygen is difficult.
Cardiovascular system - short term your heart beats faster, raising blood pressure, long term consistently high blood pressure and stress hormones can increase potential for heart attacks, hypertension, and more.
Endocrine System - short term, some hormones are spiked, such as cortisol which gives your body the energy to fight or run away, and the liver produces more blood sugar, long term this can then lead to type 2 diabetes, and overexposure to cortisol can lead to thyroid issues. It may also affect sperm and testosterone production in men, worsen PMS, and aggravate symptoms of menopause in women.
7 ways to reduce daily stress levels
1. Instant Breath relief. Find a go-to instant breathing exercise that works for you when you need something to help calm you down fast. I will be going through a few in my Start Living Collective Facebook Group in the coming weeks so feel free to tune in there, however for now, 5 to 1 breathe (my signature method), box breathing, finger breathing, and mini-meditations are great places to start researching.
2. Stretch. Your muscles tense up under stress, so sit or stand, take a deep breath, raise your arms overhead, lace your fingers together, stretch, release your fingers, and exhale as you lower your arms to each side. Repeat this 3 times.
3. Deep Breathe. Did you know you probably aren’t breathing at the optimal level for your body right now?! Take 3 deep breaths in and out right now - and I mean deep! Slow and steady wins the race here.
4. Move. Go out and walk around the block at the least, or for 30 minutes optimally. Whatever you can manage, just move.
5. Positive self-talk. Yes, I’m telling you to go talk to yourself. No negative mind chatter allowed though, tell yourself how wonderful you are, how kind, generous, and loving you are - you can’t underestimate the power of your own words so stop believing the negative ones, and start listening more to the positive words!
6. Play music. Music definitely soothes the soul - and reduces stress! Find a happy upbeat song and have it ready whenever you need it - or find something that is slow, soft, and soothes your soul. Either way, your stress levels will be reduced.
7. Have a mindful moment. Make a cup of tea, sit in the outdoors, or pat a puppy. Find an experience that you can focus on completely, and think about how it feels, looks, smells, sounds, and if it’s a beverage, tastes.
I hope you take some time today to try a few of the suggestions above so that they are ready for you whenever you need them.
Have a wonderful rest of your day!