Find it impossible to relax? Feeling overwhelmed? Stress is one of the most disruptive ‘states of being’ to our mental, emotional and physical health. Whereas our ancestors struggled for survival, today we’ve got so many continual complex pressures – time, money, technology and a thousand other tensions – that society has created. And if we’re not careful with our time there’s simply no let-up!
Many of our stressors come from a need for stimulation and growth and we would not do without them – because they enliven and challenge us. However, as we meet daily stresses many of us choose to override the body’s natural feedback. Instead we ply ourselves with alcohol, drugs, caffeine, smoking, painkillers, technology (computer games, social media, mobile phone apps and so on) and other substances symptomatic of our modern life.
There are many conditions that are considered to be stress related; anxiety, depression, heart disease, stroke, asthma, ulcers, migraine headaches, colitis, rheumatoid arthritis… I could go on. All people are prone to disease when they have been under pressure, so we could consider all disease to be stress related. In the body when we experience stress we may have a tight neck or shoulder tension, backache, headache, exhaustion, tightness in the chest, foggy brain or chronic anxiety, again I could go on…
Fight or flight
Now it is a natural part of living in a world of opposites to have stress in one’s life; the balancing act in relationships, the pressures for a work/life balance and so on. The difference is in the intensity of stress, how long it lasts and how we deal with this. For most people our systems are perfectly capable of rebalancing after a period of short-term turbulence in life. It only becomes a problem when consistent and longterm stress wreaks havoc with our nervous system. The body responds to stress by calling in the home guard.
From my perspective as a polarity therapist, the initial response is called an alarm reaction, otherwise known as fight or flight. The sympathetic part of our nervous system, the one responsible for this fight or flight reaction, sets off hormonal activity (adrenals) which sends messages to get ready for a quick reaction. Blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, sweat and muscle tension increase, while non-essential processes related to digestion, urination and reproductive systems are cut back. Breath becomes shallower as breathing rate increases. We may also experience palpitations, weakness, knots in the stomach or other symptoms. Ideally we should respond in some way to release the stress, so our bodies adjust to a normal equilibrium. Our ancestors would relax in between hunting and gathering, and allow their nervous systems to return to balance (to rest and digest). In our modern world there is little space for this to happen.
Nowadays what happens when we are ‘stressed’ is that we crowd our personal space with life ‘stuff’. Stress is a state of being stuck – it’s neither positive or negative, just stuck.
Most people become unconsciously addicted to stress, because they don’t know themselves without it! In my practice I see this every day. When you are stressed you feel alive and unconsciously start to create situations or dramas to create that adrenal rush, that feeling of being on a treadmill. It comes to a point when you simply have no idea who you are without it. You lose your sense of self. Physically your nervous system has become so stuck it has lost the ability to switch off your fight or flight response… it is always ready for action, stuck like a light permanently on. You have lost the ability to turn off the switch.
What can you do when you are stuck in stress?
Being stuck means you cannot move – like being stuck in the mud. Here are some simple steps to digging yourself out of that fight or flight mud…
- The first thing you need to do is create space. SLOW DOWN, BREATHE.
- Create space in your environment – de-clutter your home, your office; give yourself permission to leave work on time so you get a better work/life balance; create a healthy meal that will nourish your body with nutrients; go for a walk rather than a run… SLOW DOWN and allow some space into your life.
- We often think that going for a workout is best to rid ourselves of this feeling of being stuck. However, this can be a double-edged sword. Instead of depleting your adrenals even more by burning yourself out in the gym or going for a high-intensity workout, do the opposite and train your nervous system to relax. That does not mean become a couch potato! (That’s another way that people deal with stress, but it’s not so helpful and you just go from one state of being stuck to another!)
- Get some help and find a meditation class; move your body in a way that nourishes your nervous system and releases your mind, like a yoga or movement therapy class; have a polarity therapy balance treatment to reset your energy and nervous system and gain insight into how to manage your life in a different way.
The important thing here is to give yourself permission do something about it…