Updated: Jan 30, 2021
I am an avid reader and I thought I'd start sharing something interesting that I've learned from reading during the week. (see video below if you'd prefer to listen rather than read!)
I've been reading Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagosky. It's about stress and I thought that would be something we could all benefit from learning more about because, well.....STRESS! We all experience it in our typical everyday lives, not to mention adding on top of that the pandemic and the political upheaval we've been going through. The stressors are even more than what we'd be experiencing at work and home on a typical day. Stressors are the things that happen to make us feel stressed. Stress is physiological; it's in our body and it will impact our health if we don't do something to deal with the stress.
Back in the day, stress response was life-saving. You've heard of fight or flight, right? There's also freeze. When a caveman came across a grizzly bear (did grizzly bears live during that time period?? That will be another book for me to read)...let's say a sabretooth tiger instead...that caveman had 3 options: he could run for his life (maybe to his people for help), he could wrestle that sabretooth tiger, or he could freeze or hide. Maybe pretend to be a stone or a tree, hoping the tiger wouldn't notice him and think he'd be tasty. Those are all excellent options and meant that caveman might live to see another day.
Now, when we are in our own stressful situations, our bodies are still built to fight, run, or freeze. Unfortunately, we can't react like that at work or at home. When your boss or customer is stressing you out, you can't punch him and expect to still have a job. At home, when your child is pitching a fit because their sandwich is cut the wrong way, you can't run out of the house. (Ok, maybe you go run to the bathroom for 10 minutes and hide, but you know you can't do that everytime.) When we're called on to speak publicly, we can't freeze and hope they don't notice us. They'll notice you're acting weird and word will get out.
So, we can't do what we've been designed to do and the stress cycle doesn't get completed. That cycle is: STRESSOR leads to STRESS leads to ACTION leads to SAFETY/RELEASE. Because we don't get to fight/flee/freeze, stress isn't released from our body and it just keeps building up. That built-up stress can literally kill you. We have to complete the cycle so we don't run ourselves ragged. How many times have you started a long awaited vacation, only to get sick on the first day? This is your body saying, "You WILL rest! You have been pushing me to the breaking point and I'm taking over now." Our body tells us what it needs.
7 SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN WAYS TO LESSEN STRESS!
Move your body - when we get stressed, our heartrate increases, muscles tense, breathing becomes more rapid, blood drains to our extremeties, digestion slows, all of this to gear up to throw a punch or run. Stress is a physical respose so we have to do something physical to release it. Walk, stand up and stretch, jumping jacks, dance party in your kitchen, YOGA (wink, wink), bike ride, job, lift weights. Whatever activity you enjoy, find the time to do it! Even just 10-15 minutes. Even a 5 minute break from your desk.
Breathe - breathing is the magical back door to tell our mind to stop worrying about a stressor. When we calm and slow our breath, we calm our minds and bodies. Not just any breath, though! We've gotta kick it oldschool and go back to our babyhood. Picture a sleeping baby....their baby belly goes up and down with their breath. That's how we were built to breathe. However, as we get older and more stressed, our breath moves up into our chest. These breaths are more shallow and don't allow for the maximum oxygen intake. Put your hand on your bellybutton and practice moving your breath into your abdomen, filling up your belly like a balloon. Then start to slow down your breath by counting: inhale for 4, hold it for 4, exhale for 4, hold out for 4. Repeat for at least 4-5 cycles. This is a square breath and is relaxing. The magical thing about breathing is you can do it anywhere and everywhere! While driving and some jerk cuts you off? Square breath! In a Zoom meeting and someone isn't muted and there's an awful echo?? Square breath!
Laughter - laugh a good belly laugh! Call your friend with the best raunchy jokes. Watch your favorite silly movie. Pull up a comedian's stand up routine. Even remembering a time you had a great laugh helps to ease stress.
Crying - remember when your grandma told you to have a good cry? She was right. Grandma's are nearly always right. There are chemicals in our tears which increase stress levels. By crying, we are releasing those chemicals out of our body and we feel better. Grab the tissues and let it out!
Express yourself artistically - draw, sing, act, dance, crochet....even hooting and hollering for your favorite team counts! All these things allow you to express emotion and let it all out.
Positive interaction with another - doesn't have to be anyone you know! When you go through a drive-thru for your coffee, say "Hello! How are you?" Wave to a person on the street. Getting these short, pleasant human interactions lets your brain know the world is not all falling apart and crappy. There is good out there and there is hope.
Physical intimacy with someone you love - Scientists have proven that a 6 second kiss decreases stress. 6 seconds is long enough for your brain to say to itself "oh yeah, I like this person, they make me happy, I am safe." A 20 second hug also does the trick! The rules for this hug, though, are you both have to be on your own 2 feet - not leaning on each other. You are grounded and not relying on them to hold you, just as they are not relying on you to hold them. Here's the good news: pets count too! Petting your dog or cat, having them in your arms or lap, playing with them....all these things are proven stress reducers.
So those are the magical 7 things you can do to beat the stress cycle. You don't have to do them all every day. Definitely breath and seek movement daily. Add in the other things where you can. If you do this, you will feel better and allow your body to rest, relax, and come down from it's high level of alertness. Treat yourself well, it is not a selfish thing! Comment below with any thoughts or questions. I highly recommend the book if you want to learn more.
Namaste! - Lauren