The other day I was reading up on Stress and came across a really interesting one written by Dr Mark Hyman that certainly put things into perspective (for me anyway).
In the fast paced world that we live in these days, it is something that everyone experiences at some point in time – and some of us know it more intimately than others, but have you ever thought about what STRESS actually is? Well here’s a thought – it’s a THOUGHT, or a perception!
That’s right! Nothing more – nothing less…stress is simply a thought that pops into our head. If that’s true, then we have complete control over it, because it’s not something that happens to us but something that happens in us.
Here’s what Dr Hyman has to say on the subject…
The dictionary definition of stress is, “bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existent equilibrium.” It is your thoughts out of balance.
The medical definition of stress is, “the perception of a real or imagined threat to your body or your ego.” It could be a tiger chasing you or your belief that your spouse is mad at you (even if he or she is not). Whether it is real or imagined, when you perceive something as stressful, it creates the same response in the body – and it’s these responses that can/does make you sick, and sometimes very sick. It can make you gain weight, cause sleep disorders and more…
A cascade of adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress hormones floods your system, raising your heart rate, increasing your blood pressure, making your blood more likely to clot, damaging your brain’s memory centre, increasing belly fat storage, and generally wreaking havoc on your body.
The operative word here is that it is a perception, also known as a thought or point of view. Sure, there are objective stressors – war, death of loved ones, financial troubles, starvation, dental work. But how these affect us determines how our body responds. Imagine Woody Allen and James Bond, each with a gun pointed at his head – both experiencing the same external stressor but both having entirely different responses.
It IS possible to train yourself to watch your thoughts and perceptions, and when a stressful thought comes into your head, STOP , take a deep breath, and just let it go. It’s like a muscle – it gets stronger the more you use it, but if you stop using it, it relaxes and reverts to its former self.
Of course, life takes over and things happen, all the “D words”…divorce, death, deadlines, demands, dumb thoughts, dumb schedules – and we all get sucked into negative thinking, which creates stress in the body. Your sleep gets interrupted, muscles get tight, your mood changes and you get cranky….but then you breathe and remind yourself that stress is just a thought or perception. We get so attached to our way of thinking, to our beliefs and attitudes about the way things should be or shouldn’t be, that it makes us sick.
It’s little wonder most people are stressed to some degree these days! We run businesses, and/or work full time, have family responsibilities as wives, mothers, daughters, sisters and carers, our social lives are often crazy, then we spend time on Facebook, blogging, and volunteering our “spare time” to help others….the list goes on. But it’s actually quite simple. You don’t worry about things as much once you get your head around the fact that stress is just a thought!
You simply wake up each day and do the next thing as best you can, and when things get out of control (which they sometimes do), just remind yourself that this stressful situation is just a thought/perception and take the next exit from your stressful thoughts. It’s like an internal GPS system. Your GPS doesn’t yell at you and call you stupid or judge you for taking a wrong turn. It reminds you to change your thought pattern and take the next possible exit.
Of course, it’s a matter of “different horses for different courses”, and each of us have to find out how to make our way to the nearest exit, but here are a few ways that work very well for most of us –
- Move. The best way to burn off the stress hormones without having to change your thinking is to move and sweat. Run, dance, jump, ride, swim, stretch, or skip – do something vigorous and lively. Yoga is also fabulous, as it combines movement and breathing.
- Breathe. Most of us hold our breath often or breathe shallow, anxious breaths when the stress levels rise. Deep, slow, full breaths have a profound affect on re-setting the stress response, because the relaxation nerve goes through your diaphragm and is activated with every deep breath. Take five deep breaths now, and observe how differently you feel after.
- Bathe. For many (including me), an Ultra-Bath is a secret weapon against stress. Add two cups of Epsom salt (which contains magnesium, the relaxation mineral), a half-cup of baking soda, and 10 drops of lavender oil (which lowers cortisol) to a hot bath. Light some candles, put on some soft music, then, add one stressed human and soak for 20 minutes. Guaranteed to induce relaxation.
- Sleep. Sleep is sacred., and lack of it increases stress hormones. Make your bedroom a sleeping temple and stay there for 7 to 8 hours a night. Take a nap if you missed your sleep. Getting enough sleep should be a priority in your life.
- Think Differently. Practice the art of noticing stress, noticing how your thinking makes you stressed. Practice taking deep breaths and letting go of worry and break the cycle of “stinkin’ thinkin'” that keeps you stressed.
I hope you find this article useful in reducing YOUR stress – and don’t forget to keep training those thought muscles – the more you use them , the stronger they will become.