Oh, the things we didn’t learn in school… .
Are you devoting enough time to exploring how to respond to stress? The benefits can be (literally) life-saving.
Stress and anxiety are a normal part of life. In fact, this energy is what motivates us to get out of bed each day, go find food, and build relationships with others. But exposure to high levels of stress over the long-term has major consequences for our health.
Stress & Our Immune System
When our bodies are responding to stressful events, our immune system becomes suppressed. This happens so that all of our physical resources can be given to our fight-or-flight systems to increase our chances of survival in a life or death situation. The problem is, our brain cannot tell the difference between receiving a stressful email from our boss VS being chased by a bear… both situations are simply considered to be “threatening” and the fight-or-flight response kicks in.
Learning to Cope with Stress
Living in today’s fast-paced, connected society means that we are constantly exposed to stress. This long-term exposure to stress and immune system suppression can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, heart attacks, and cancer.
Fortunately, we can train ourselves to respond to everyday stress in a way that does not engage our fight-or-flight systems. Part of this process involves activating our “relaxing” parasympathetic nervous system. This can be done in a variety of ways, including: breathing, movement, physical pressure/deep tissue activation, and warmth. When we are already stressed out, it can be irritating to hear someone tell us to “just breathe”. But this message isn’t entirely useless… the key is knowing how to breathe and exhale in a way that tells our bodies “it’s time to relax”.
Mastering Your Nervous System
Now, we don’t want you to read this article and stress out!!! Learning to “switch on” our parasympathetic nervous system doesn’t have to be a demanding task. There are plenty of resources dedicated to supporting physical relaxation, so allocate 5 minutes each day to learning a new technique. As you learn which techniques are most effective, continue practicing them so they become second-nature when you encounter stress in your life. For those who want to explore further, join us for the upcoming workshop Interrupting the Stress Response on Wednesday, November 29th at Studio 202 in North Vancouver. There, we will be discussing the physiology of stress, and sampling different techniques that promote relaxation.
Explore Your Response to Stress
A final word of encouragement… We are all unique in our ability to tolerate and respond to stress. Adopting an attitude of curiosity and humour can be helpful in exploring which techniques are most effective for you as an individual. With some time, practice, and patience, learning to respond to stress will be a valuable long-term investment in your health and overall wellness.