Rooting Out the Monster: Understanding Your Body & Stress (Part 2)
“If you don't think your anxiety, depression, sadness and stress impact your physical health, think again. All of these emotions trigger chemical reactions in your body, which can lead to inflammation and a weakened immune system….”
Kris Carr – NY Times best-selling author/wellness expert
In this second installment of our Series on Stress we’ll take a look at what life pressures do to the body. Helping you identify your unique responses to stress is the first part of helping your body cope. Stress won’t go away but you can ease your negative reactions by recognizing potential causes and changing your physical feedback.
Everybody can relate to some form of stress - whether good or bad. There isn’t a human on the planet that hasn’t experienced the pressure – and physical response – to what life throws at them. The bad news about stress abounds. Any life event, whether simple or complicated can trigger our physical reactions.
We know that our response to stress as human animals elicits the “flight or fight” syndrome. The chemistry behind this rush of adrenaline to our bodies begins in the amygdala – a threat sensor in our brains. When this emotional center senses a threat it shuts down most brain functions and engages the body’s resources to immediately react.
The problem is, when the amygdala gets stimulated over and over, your brain responds as if a lion was chasing it – even if the actual cause of stress is a crabby boss or a teething baby.
Over time the constant pressure of those stress sources wears on your body. You can experience a variety of effects:
- Increased Heart Rate
- Muscular Tension
- Loss of Sleep
- Heart Burn
- Digestive Issues
The effects of stress unchecked can lead to heart attack, erectile dysfunction, infertility, depression, anxiety and a reduced immune system.
You can’t always erase stress from your life. You can try to adapt to a quieter way of thinking and responding but you can’t alleviate traffic, deadlines, difficult relationships, loss and grief and dozens of other outside influences that stress you out.
However you can help your body navigate these “enemies” in a more proactive way. Ask yourself these 3 questions:
1. Am I even aware of what is stressing me? Often we go through our day in reaction mode. Our reptilian brain – the function that helps you drive your car to work while you are making a mental to-do list -- takes over just trying to make it from sunrise to sunset
Try This – Take a week to consider all the events you experience and how they affect you. This will call for car rides with no radio or music, some quiet time at the end of the day to reflect and a journal to keep track.
2. How am I coping now? If it’s eating a pint of ice cream while watching reality TV, chances are your reptilian brain has taken over. Mindlessly responding to stress doesn’t erase the effects, itjust moves them deeper underground and likely adds more surface area to your body!
While it may seem overstated, your best offense against stress is a physical action. You know the prescription, take a walk, breathe deeply, meditate – but if you don’t have time or the desire todo those things, consider other options.
Try This – Take the stairs more quickly next time. If stairs aren't an option, spend a minute doing calf raises to shake out the tension in your lower legs. Throw in a few body weight squats to recruit the larger muscles in your body. Drop down for 10 slow perfect pushups or 25 sit ups. If you are stuck at the office, move around every 20 minutes.
3. What activity makes me feel the best? Whether it’s after yoga or a TFW energy circuit, you probably have an activity that helps you feel more centered, calm and relaxed. Take note of what about that exercise makes the difference. Do you need a high intensity push to purge the built up stress chemicals? Does your body crave a long, slow run or swim to drain your over-active adrenaline?
Try This – Create a plan that incorporates the best of your day into more of them. If you’ve relegated your exercise to the weekends add one night a week – even if it's just for 15 minutes to start. Remind yourself that the endorphin high you feel is the ideal antidote to the discomfort that plagues you when you let those stress chemicals build in your system.
Finally, have gratitude for the body you’re living in. Even with aches and pains and limitations, you inhabit an incredible instrument capable of taking you to new places. Honor your survival systems and commit to getting to know your machine better. Your body and your mind will thank you in return.
Do you know somebody struggling with the ravages of stress? Check out our article, The Monster in the Room: Stress to learn more. And if you are looking for a jump start to endorphin producing fun, check out our 21-Day Black Friday Special (new students only).