Join me on a quick adventure… Imagine you are on your way to school, riding calmly and quietly in the back seat of the car. You left home with plenty of time to get to school, fed with a breakfast of your choice, and you have all your school belonging to make for a successful day. You ride along the tree lined streets, window down, taking in the sights, feelings of the morning sun, and smells of the season. When suddenly, your seat belt locks and you get thrown forward from the driver of the car slamming on the brakes! Your body automatically goes into a stress response.
Your heart races, your breathing quickens, you feel sweaty or clammy, your pupils dilate, you are shaking and a little nauseated, and likely your mind is trying very hard to figure out what has happened. Your body is automatically programmed to launch into this “fight or flight” stress response.
The “fight or flight” response is triggered to protect us in the case of emergencies or danger. During stressful events or threats, the human body releases stress hormones, which cause these reactions to occur. The “fight or flight” response is named from one of the earliest human behaviors; hunting and gathering. Many centuries ago, humans would go out to hunt for their food sources. Imagine rounding a corner and coming face-to-face with a bear. Like with the car braking, your body will go into this “fight or flight” response giving you the quick reaction to either fight the bear or run away as quick as possible.
In both examples of the car braking unexpectedly and coming nose-to-nose with a bear, the stress response is helpful in preparing the mind and body to take action toward safety. However, the stress response often works against us and is triggered by events or situations when it is not necessary. It can be turned on just thinking about past or future events, or by thoughts that are out of your control. The stress response shows itself and is triggered differently in all people. But did you know that you can train your body and mind to control this seemingly uncontrollable stress response?
Let’s revisit the car braking scenario... Think about how you would react to the car braking; would you scream, would you yell angerly at the driver of your car or the cars ahead of you, would you cry, or would you just sit back and continue a calm journey to school? You cannot control the traffic jam, cars braking, or your physiological responses, BUT can you control your reaction to the stressor. The primary way to control your reaction is to BREATHE. The breath in between the stressor and your reaction is the most important moment of all. Taking this moment to create more space. Focusing on the breath is the simplest stress reduction technique to be practiced. Breathing should be practiced during all daily stresses, no matter how small or big the event or feeling may be.
The breath in between can be supported by the following helpful techniques:
1. Answer the questions; Will this event or stressor matter to me tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, or 10 years from now? You will realize the answers to most of these timeframes will be NO.
2. Accept the things you can not change.
3. Get moving. Moving the body will force you to breath and release the “calming” hormones.
4. Connect with others. By sharing with others, you will often find that you are not alone in your feelings and others can help you find the best way to handle the stressor. Don’t allow your feelings and reactions to stress to stay bottled up inside.
5. Find time for fun and relaxation. Unmanaged stress can have serious long-term effects including chronic health conditions, mental burnout, emotional instability, and can even shorten your lifespan. Find ways to find happiness, enjoy laughter, and love one another.
Like most things in life, we improve over time and practice makes us stronger. Stress management is the same way! Staying focused on the present moment and finding the breath through stressful times takes practice. Before you know it, the next time you are nose-to-nose with a bear, you will be able to breathe and “laugh in the face of fear.”