We are learning more and more about the harmful effects of stress on our bodies. But just what is it really and how can you overcome it?
Stress is a situation that our bodies create when they sense danger. It is a function of the so called “fight or flight” response. This can be a really good thing–if you are truly in actual danger.
The stress response causes our heart rates to increase, our blood pressure to rise and our pupils to dilate. It puts our bodies in the optimum state to stand our ground and fight or to make a run for it. It diverts energy away from resting, digesting and healing. Tens of thousands of years ago our ancestors lived with threats from predators and even from each other. Being able to ramp up the body in response to these threats was a matter of survival.
Things are mostly safer now. Sure you have to watch out for distracted drivers and things but there aren’t any saber toothed tigers out there trying to eat you.
Unfortunately though we tend to have sort of a mild version of the fight or flight response going on all the time in our daily lives. This takes the form of deadlines at work, difficult coworkers, angry bosses, and worries about our families and making ends meat.
We are chronically stressed and we see the effects in our health. We are more depressed and anxious. We can’t sleep. We take blood pressure medication and tranquilizers.
One of the best ways to combat this is through a practice of mindfulness. Simply put mindfulness means being aware and present in the moment. We tend to either dwell on the past or worry about the future. It is rare that we are able to just focus on the moment.
A good way to get started at being more mindful is to be aware of the breath. Our breath can become a way for us to center ourselves and invoke a relaxation response in contrast to the low level stress response that we are constantly exposed to.
Here are a couple of suggestions on how to get started minding the breath and being more mindful. Practice these regularly and you will feel a difference:
Exhale completely through your mouth.
Breathe in through your nose over a count of 4.
Hold for a count of 7
Breathe out through your mouth for a count of 8.
Repeat for a total of four breaths.
I recommend doing four breaths when you wake up and four breaths before you go to sleep. It’s also good to do this throughout the day in moments when you are feeling stressed or anxious.
Two Feet One Breath:
Pick up your right foot and set it down.
Then pick up your left foot and set it down.
Feel your feet solidly on the ground.
Take a deep breath (a 4-7-8 breath would work well).
It’s a very simple practice that can help ground you in the moment and remove your mind from its stressful thoughts.