How Your Body’s Ancient Response is Hurting Your Contemporary Health
You are supposed to produce stress hormones when you’re chilling at the watering hole and you suddenly notice a Leopard is eying your baby as a possible appetizer. It’s pretty simple. You see the Leopard, you realize there’s danger, you grab your baby, you run to safety. You are able to do this because your body is wise and knows when you’re in danger. Your body knows you need to produce hormones that will most effectively allow your body to fight or run (that’s the fight or flight response.) Then, once the danger has passed, your body recovers. And maybe a few days later there is another stress that you need to respond to and the cycle continues. This is a good thing.
In this day and age most of us are producing stress hormone pretty much constantly.
It might go like this…
It’s evening, the kids are finally asleep so you turn on Game of Thrones, you are on the edge of your seat. Will Tyrion betray Dany? Did Arya and Sansa plan it all?* You’re producing stress hormone. Then it’s time for bed but you just need to check email one more time. There’s an email from your sister and she’s in another bad fight with her husband. You call her. More stress hormone. When it’s finally time to get into bed, you’re wide awake and it takes you an hour to fall asleep.
Morning comes but you’ve only been asleep for 6 hours so you hit the snooze button and then wake up late. Stress hormone. Your kid is having a meltdown because he dropped his eggs on the floor and you don’t have time to make more food before school. He can’t find his jacket. Your partner is long gone and you’re now late for work. You get out the door with a giant mug of coffee in your hand, get your kid to the bus stop and race off to work. Someone cuts you off and you slam on your brakes, screaming. And then work? Your boss is out of town so you’re doing your job and hers. They let your assistant go months ago and it’s clear you’re now going this on your own. Someone wants something from you all the time. You miss lunch. More stress hormone. Are you getting the picture?
It isn’t always this dramatic but most of us spend most of our time running from thing to thing. Finishing deadline after deadline, or even worse, missing them. You don’t get enough sleep, you drink too much coffee, you’re running around feeling like you’re never getting enough done.
No, you can’t change the number of hours in your day, and there’s no magic button to push. But you can choose to decrease your overall stress load by identifying the things you do have control over.
And this may be more things than you think! this is the basis of my book Overcoming Overwhelm: Dismantle Your Stress from the Inside Out. The big picture for decreasing stress and overwhelm is really digging into the accumulation of stress that you have, and dismantling it. But some stress management in the meantime is a good place to start.
Here are three things (or just pick one!) that will profoundly change your overall state of stress and how you feel every day.
1. Move. 5 minutes every hour (even if you work out regularly!) Get up from your desk and run stairs, buy a mini-elliptical for next to your desk, find an empty room at the office and do jumping jacks, or hula-hoop. Seriously. 5 minutes an hour during a regular workday is 40 minutes of movement. By far not enough but this improves your circulation including to your brain. Your mood will be better. You’ll feel calmer. Your energy will be better. You’ll be more resilient. And if you have 7 minutes, throw this in to up your game.
2. Sleep. Get your sleep in order. Here is a handout for identifying what you can do to change your sleep habits and patterns. If you have insomnia your first priority is to work with someone who can help you get to the cause so you can get good quality sleep. This is something I often help clients with in my Skype consults, but there are many experienced practitioners who can help. If you prefer to work with someone in person, there may be someone in your local area who can help.
3. Meditate. Everyone says that, right? But when your are stressed it feels impossible to meditate, right? I cannot even estimate how many of my patients over the last 20 years have said to me ‘but I hate meditation’ or ‘I’m terrible at meditating.’ The thing is that all you need to do to meditate is sit. If your brain is spinning just bring it back to your breath. You cannot fail at meditation. And even sitting for 5 minutes a day, or even 5 minutes twice a day if you can, will make a profound difference, I promise. Try the insight timer for guided meditation. Or choose coloring, it’s another kind of easy going meditation that allows you to quiet your mind without the traditional meditation approach.
Yours in Health,
*Please forgive me if those questions don’t actually make sense, I don’t watch GOT and had to do a quick google search here!