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Kicking Stress: A Brain-Body Approach

Updated: Nov 29, 2019

Ever wonder why you get so stressed out? Wish you could just live a stress free life? Though the idea of never experiencing stress may seem tempting, the truth is, we need it.

That right, stress is good!

Before you get concerned and write me off as just plain mad, let me explain. SOME stress is good. Not ALL stress is. Experiencing stress is a normal human experience. In fact, our bodies are cleverly designed to do so. Why? Well, it is a key part of our survival and thus, in our best interest. We experience stress due to our stress response system also known as our Sympathetic Nervous System or better known as our flight, flight, or freeze response. Science Daily breaks this down in detail but for the sake of this article we’ll stick to the main concepts.

Essentially, this system is designed to alert us when potential danger is afoot releasing chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline so our bodies can prepare to address whatever life-threatening situation may be coming our way. We’ve all heard things like stories like a mom moving a car if her baby’s in danger. This is extremely useful when faced with crisis or traumatic situations because we NEED to respond at that moment to survive. Even though freezing might not seem like a useful response, it can be as well depending on the situation.

So if it’s good, where’s the problem? The problem lies in the times when we are not in a literal crisis but our body is responding as if we are, particularly when this is over a continued period of time. This is called chronic stress. Many people have experienced chronic stress in their lives without even realizing it. Think of a hostile work environment or a toxic relationship, or worse, being in a hostile work environment AND a toxic relationship! The stress response stays activated constantly. This continued activation can wreak havoc on our minds and bodies because we are not designed to maintain such high levels of adrenaline or cortisol on a continuous basis. Research has linked chronic stress to issues like high blood pressure, immune deficiency, gastrointestinal issues, and more.

So what can we do? The obvious choice is to rid your life of chronic stress. However, we may not always be in a position to do so or at the very least, it may take some time. It might be surprising but practices like meditation and mindfulness can sooth the sympathetic nervous system allowing our bodies time to regulate. Practicing even 15-30 minutes a day has been shown to have an impact on not only our stress response system, but also promoting brain wave patterns (such as Theta, Delta, and Alpha) associated with relaxation and sleep. Medical News Today talks more on the different patterns and the relationship to not only meditation or mindfulness, but also binaural beats. In conclusion, practice incorporating more mindful moments into your day. You might be surprised the impact it has on feeling stressed.

* Though increasing daily mindfulness practices may help with stress reduction, shifting away form difficult environments might pose a significant challenge for a number of reasons. Sometimes anxiety can be misconstrued as stress or other complications might be involved. Speaking to a trained therapist may help you better understand what particular issues keep you stuck and develop skills for overcoming them to find relief.

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