No one needs to be reminded of a time when they’ve been overworked, overstimulated, and worried about the future or past. Restless and in search of a numbing agent, one may reach for booze, sugar, caffeine (or booze mixed with sugar and caffeine!), contradicting the bodies need for a hot bath, sleep, or just to sit the f*ck down. But, despite the warning signs of stress, we push on, commit ourselves, and say “yes, of course I can do that”. Guilty as charged! But what is stress? What is it doing to our bodies? And how can we get a little relief?
Don’t stress! All will be revealed… all you have to do is read on.
What is stress?
Stress is our body’s manifestation of fight, flight, freeze, appease. This is our limbic system, the emotional center of the brain, taking over. Although this system is what keeps us alive and has allowed us to thrive for the last 200,000 years, it can also be detrimental to our health.
There are two types of stress, acute and chronic. Acute stress allows us to quickly respond to highly threatening situations. Situations may include braking during car crashes, responding to a break-in, or helping an injured friend. Acute stress is usually short term and has aided in the survival of the human species.
Chronic stress occurs when the body is plagued by acute stress responses, keeping the body on high alert at all times. Stress hormones created by the body perpetuate the production of cortisol, which regulates the waking/ sleeping cycle. These chemicals can wreak havoc on one’s sleep cycle, digestive system, and lower the immune system. Severe chronic stress can also bring about cancer, chronic pain, memory loss, heart attack, and the list goes on and on (Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers).
There is Relief
In Tara Brach’s book, Finding True Refuge, she discusses the “magic quarter second” which is the opportunity to pause and reconnect with the present moment. Studies have shown neurons that fire together, wire together. When perpetuating, stress provoking thoughts continuously barrage your mind there is a space between each thought, a quarter second, where we can decide to continue the worrisome cascade of thoughts or choose to interrupt them, coming back to the present moment.
There are several different techniques to support one in continuously coming back to the present moment, changing the neuron pathways in the brain which support the releasing of built up stress. The Buddhist practice of Vipassana, Transcendental Meditation, Body Scans, and Yoga Nidra are just some of the practices which support coming back to the present moment.
Some techniques are more formal, some are very casual and can be practiced when and where ever. I recommend trying several different techniques to determine which is most useful for you.
In the body scan, we are developing a greater intimacy with bare sensation, opening to the give and-take embedded in the reciprocity between the sensations themselves and our awareness of them. As a result, it is not uncommon to be less disturbed by them, or disturbed by them in a different, a wiser way, even when they are acute. Awareness learns to let them be as they are and to hold them without triggering so much emotional reactivity and also so much inflamed thinking about them.
Return to Presence with Tara Brach: 21 minutes
It’s natural that our attention wanders, and the more we relax back, the more that becomes our habit…returning to presence. This meditation opens with conscious breathing and awakening through the body. We then rest in open awareness, and when the attention drifts, guide ourselves to rest our minds, over and over, in the aliveness and presence that is right here.
We call the heart of the formal meditation practice “sitting meditation” or simply “sitting.” As with breathing, sitting is not foreign to anyone. We all sit, nothing special about that. But mindful sitting is different from ordinary sitting in the same way that mindful breathing is different from ordinary breathing. The difference, of course, is your awareness.
Yoga Nidra with Jennifer Piercy: 38 minutes
Yoga Nidra—known as yogic sleep—is a meditation and conscious relaxation practice that is intended to induce total physical, mental, and emotional relaxation.
…Just For Fun…
May your life be balanced, happy, and full of love.
Thank you for reading.
Stress – Portrait of a Killer National Geographic Special with Robert Sapolsky [27 min]
How To Make Stress Your Friend by Kelly McGonigal [14 min]
STOP: A Short Mindfulness Practice by Susan Bauer-Wu [4 min]
What Is Stress? article from commit2bfit.me
The Anatomy of Fear Discovery Magazine graphic
Understanding the Stress Response article from Harvard Health Publications
STOP: One-Minute Breathing Space one page description
The Magic Quarter Second article by Tara Brach
Tara Brach: https://www.tarabrach.com/
Dave Potter: https://palousemindfulness.com/index.html
Jennifer Piercy: https://www.doyogawithme.com/content/yoga-nidra-jennifer-piercy-0
Yoga Nidra information: https://mindfulminutes.com/what-is-yoga-nidra/
Generation-Y-Can’t We Sleep: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/scott-fetters/generation-y-cant-we-sleep_b_4950533.html