Ok, ok STRESS has been given a bad rap, we all hear we have it and we’re all told we need to get rid of it TOTALLY. Now if you’re anything like me, you might have a few questions. Like “Is that realistic?”, “Do we really need to?” and “How?”
I believe that the human body is absolutely marvelous, we are designed to be healthy and dare I say, happy. So I’m sure that there is no mistake in the way our body responds to the various conditions around it.
You may have heard that the body has two basic states – Parasympathetic and Sympathetic Nervous System – each one having an important role in ensuring our survival. Most people talk about the Sympathetic Nervous System kicking in when a tiger is about to eat you. Absolutely right, if a tiger was about to eat me, I’d like my fight or flight response to kick in and I’m out of there!
The fear of the experience activates my amygdala, releasing cortisol & adrenaline into my system, which acts on heart, lungs & muscles to prepare me for flight or flight. Plus it shuts down the non-essential functions of digestion & growth, I don’t need those if I can’t get out of this tiger situation. Smart, I say, what a great body I have!
Now to the Parasympathetic Nervous System – the rest and digestion side. Now I like this one too, it activates when I’m calm & content, I get lovely oxytocin released in my system. Birthing woman love this one as it’s what saves us during childbirth and helps us to enjoy breastfeeding. Both men and women get the oxytocin buzz post sex …. assuming it’s done well of course! Oh my, what a great body I have!
Ok back to the tiger. Now of course most of us aren’t going to get chased by a tiger today, although I do have a great story about when a jaguar sprayed urine on my husband at the zoo one day …. But that’s a story for another day ….
Laughed myself silly I did (oh, the oxytocin I enjoyed, my hubby had the cortisol experience, poor bugger).
Ok, sorry, back to the Tiger. So instead of a tiger, you have a grumpy boss experience, a getting stuck in traffic situation, a marriage separation, an illness of a loved one … the list goes on, all causing the fight or flight system to kick in. Most people live in this state for a large proportion of their time, almost 24/7 for some. The Sympathetic Nervous System is working all the time with this chronic stress, it keeps reactivating the same neutral pathways and can result in adrenal fatigue, poor digestion & limited growth in children. It also makes losing weight near impossible.
A key thing to remember is that the amygdala is activated by the actual stress event OR the memory of it OR an abstract thought about it OR subliminally by sensory input you don’t even recognise!
- So after a rough day at the office you come home and tell your partner about it - reactivated stress biology!
- You miss a meeting because of the bad traffic, you think back to the traffic and blame it - reactivated stress biology!
- You remember a fight you had with the partner you’re divorcing - reactivated!
- You smell the same smell (subliminal sensory message) that is associated with a stressful experience - reactivated!
That’s a lot of stress ….. adrenaline and cortisol pumping through your system.
Now the good thing about ACTUALLY having a fight with a tiger or running away from a tiger is that it allows you to UTILISE this excess adrenaline and cortisol in your system. The alternative of course is to fight your boss or leave your car stuck in traffic and run home, neither of which I’m planning on doing in the near future. No fight or flight means these chemicals then get to hang out in your system for a while before levels naturally drop away.
I think back to my university days and my lack of understanding of what was going on for myself. After a long day of lectures doing my science degree, I would catch the bus home with a really painful stomach. I would walk in the door and the only thing I could do for myself was lie of the floor and stretch out. I thought I had an ulcer or something! But by the next morning I’d be ok and off I go into it again.
Now I never got yelled at during uni, but I did have a lot of self-doubt. The information and learning load was intense, and I wasn’t sure I could learn it all and survive exams. These thoughts were giving me low grade anxiety (not that I knew that at the time), I didn’t realise that my negative self-talk was effecting my biology! I was in ‘fight or flight’, blood was being directed preferentially to my arms and legs, leaving my visceral organs depleted and my digestion was turned off ….. no wonder I had a sore belly.
Now let’s layer a bit of eastern wisdom on top of this. In many eastern traditions the Chakra system is used to describe the energies of the body. The Solar Plexus Chakra is often depicted as yellow and is described as being connected to one’s self esteem / personal power. I certainly didn’t feel particularly powerful in those days and my self-esteem was questionable too! So my solar plexus energy centre was blocked / restricted ….. poor sore belly!
These days I use my belly as a stress–o–meter, I know I’ve been triggered by life if my belly is painful. I’ve done a lot of work on myself over the years to create a sense of inner peace. I thought I was doing this just so I could feel happier and more content ….. now I realise it has a huge impact on my biology and health too!
I’ve worked on the many aspects of me, my conscious mind/beliefs & subconscious mind/programs, my energetic self and much, much more to create this inner peace. I now get to work with clients to help them achieve similar outcomes for themselves. Over the next few newsletters I will share with you my journey and the learnings I obtained along the way. We will even explore the benefits of stress….. can you imagine!?!
You may see yourself in this story, but perhaps it’s your neck and shoulders that you store you stress, perhaps your lower back. Maybe you do reoccurring tonsillitis or colds instead. We are all unique in the way we respond to the stresses of life. The challenge is how we learn and grow from the experiences life throws at us.
Love and Wisdom
Reference: Oxytocin Factor – Kersten Vunas Moberg