I remember days at work where I literally had no idea how I would be able to complete all the work that was due. Or other days where I was challenged with something that seemed impossible to overcome. In these cases my heart rate would increase, I would become irritable, and sometimes not able to even think straight.
In my case being on Maternity Leave has been less stressful than being a working person, but the memory of my stressed out working days is still close by.
With that in mind, I am learning as much as I can (and sharing it with you) about how to combat the ways in which stress is causing us harm.
In her book The Sweet Spot, Christine Carter talks about how to ‘undo’ the ‘dis-ease’ of stress.
“Because it doesn’t work to will ourselves to just relax, we humans are constantly looking for ways to recover from the profound state of dis-ease that stress creates. We binge on comfort foods and smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol and take any manner of drugs to induce feelings of ease. All these things produce changes in our biochemistry and physiology that, at least in small ways, dampen the stress response, even if they create other problems in the process – like obesity, lung cancer, liver disease, isolation from others , or addiction.
The good news is that, consciously or unconsciously, we can counteract our stress response in healthy ways, and in the process create ‘physiologies of ease’. When we crack a grin – a genuine eye crinkle…our cardiovascular system calms. Striking a ‘power pose’ for a couple of minute by putting our hands on our hips like Wonder Woman reduces the amount of cortisol in our system, helping us think more clearly. Meditation lowers our heart rate and improves our focus; massage and other forms of nurturing physical touch release oxytocin – sometimes called the feel-good ‘love hormone’ into our systems, inducing feelings of profound well-being.
All these positive behaviours (and the positive emotional states they create) have unique biochemical and physiological effects in our brains and bodies. Laughing, for example, produces an extraordinary physical state of near total relaxation, in part because of the way that it forces us to exhale. Simply exhaling lowers our heart rate, counters the fight-or-flight response, and induces feelings of calm.”
So, the next time you are feeling stressed out I encourage you to call a loved one, look at a photo of your family/friends, watch a video that makes you smile/laugh, or if you have time, do something you really enjoy. Just doing this for a few minutes can physically change your bodies reaction to stress and help you relax.