Stress - Get to Know It and Proactively Manage It!
Updated: Jan 19
(Including 'Stress Free' Practice)
Several studies link high levels of cortisol with a greater factor of covid19 deaths (1&2). Studies also prove that in fact short term stress boosts the immune system, but chronic stress has significant effects of suppressing it. It turns out that this suppression raises the risk of viral infections in the first place! (3)
How? Neurotransmitters, hormones and neuropeptides have been found to regulate our immune cells (4)
In other words our thoughts control our biology! Mind your thoughts!
In this article we will talk about stress as a non necessity that we usually end up opting for (unconsciously of course). That’s right, it is optional! If we only understood the nature of this phenomenon better, we could save ourselves from a lot of suffering.
It is crucial to know how to deal with it, and even when triggered, to use it skillfully and stay energised, but not to be controlled or worse destroyed by it!
What is Stress?
From physics, we know that stress is the internal force acting from within. It appears as a result of external force which acts upon and tries to disturb the equilibrium position. Stress is developed within a body to resist that external force (5).
From our perspective, stress is something we create within the body as a reaction (resistance) to external events which have happened not as we expected them to, and usually we were not ready for.
Could this only be proof that we run our day on autopilot? Could more attention help us to be ready for the unknown? Definitely it would!
Let's first look for an important distinction between internal and external forces as their meaning is muddled in our understanding.
Pressure and Stress
Again from physics perspective, stress is the same as pressure, the difference is the force in pressure is external but the force in stress is internal (5).
In life, pressure (aka stressor) as we perceive it could be our boss, deadlines at work, what's someone says to us, anything which comes from others and the environment around us.
Those things we do not have control over (we certainly do not like that fact) and anything can happen next.
In other words, pressure is the cause, and stress is the effect. For example, we heard bad news and then boom, we got it!
What's important to highlight here is that stress usually comes up in the form of compulsion based on ‘storytelling’ inside the head, which is not necessarily the real thing (more about this later).
But what if stress is not the enemy in the first place?
Learning from Our Biology to Understand that Stress is a Form of Adaptation
As humans, we have built a bodily survival mechanism which is designed to protect us. It triggers certain responses in the body and prepares us to 'fight or flight' in face of real danger.
For example - in the fight for life while being chased by predators, there is no need for us to carry additional weight as this will slow down our ability to move faster. For that reason, body excretes the rest of the food and will not ask for more food either. In the long run, and thanks to flood of cortisol, this will ‘reduce’ your weight and burn your muscles (massive energy consumers) to ensure that all of your energy is channelled for you to survive - now you understand why it is important to have a smile on your face whilst doing prolonged cardio (you do not want to lose that hardly-gained muscle, do you?)
This survival principle is being used on an everyday basis!
It's All in the Mind!
The mind has got the reasoning, the body does not! Our internal world does not know what is out there - the true cause of our actions. The body has no ‘reasoning’ in why you could be on the run, however it will accordingly still trigger a cascade of responses based on a reaction from the mind.
This mechanism is designed to work for a short period of time - to adapt or just to move you away from danger safely.
But that safety system is not designed to stay there too long!
If that stress on your bodily system becomes chronic - it works like a suicidal act for our health and longevity. And studies show it can even impact anything from mental health through cardiovascular to our immune system. All inclusive!
So what other options do we have?
Life is about Exercising the Capacity to Respond and Be Able to Adapt our Bodies to Environmental Pressure
It seems that pressure can be useful for the body as well! In fact, stressors which work for a short period of time and are done in a smart way can be very beneficial for you! Here are a couple more examples:
Lifting weights - positive failure (the point where the neuromuscular system can no longer produce adequate force to overcome a specific workload), when the body receives an impulse to build more muscles (in fact, it is breaking down and repairing - the body repairs damaged muscle fibers by fusing them, which increase the mass and size of the muscles) to adapt to a new lifting record, whether that’s the number of weights or number of repetition.
Cold exposure, when the body (mitochondria in that matter which are power plants for cells) is responsible for energy production triggers an impulse to cells to produce more energy. The ones which cannot die and will be replaced with new ones for the one reason - to keep them and us (as a beneficiary) alive!
This mechanism is an everyday survival adaptation for boosting our metabolism and can keep us healthy for a long time. However, this needs to be used in a smart way with respect to the body to ensure that you give enough time for its recovery.
The examples above can be proof that maybe the body needs the pressure to be alive, aka. to adapt and get ready to the next level - if that is your wish.
How about using this phenomenal principle learnt from our biology and to replace psychologically our so-called enemies and every day disliked stressors into something natural and positive?
Learn and adapt to grow and flourish as a person and keep moving on to the next challenge. How does that sound to you?
Just imagine how that would be, to be proactive, act consciously to meet what is in the way with willingness and openness. Life is giving us an opportunity to learn and grow everyday.
The question is, are you willing to?
The ‘Stress Free’ Practice
Just remember one thing which already can save you from lots of suffering. You cannot control those external forces acting upon you (others, environment).
But you are certainly the one who creates that internal force within you!
You can be totally in charge of what is coming up within you as a result of that pressure!
Remember that stress is only a result of your reasoning. That reasoning is based on your past experiences. All the stories that we create and carry in our head might not be truthful for new situations that we encounter. Hence the importance of disconnecting from our reactions based on those stories and checking what is true for you in the moment.
There is a way to use your mind righteously so that it works for you, not against you!
This means to return to your psychological equilibrium under pressure to act as a cool demeanor in every situation!.
Here is a simple method I learnt from my teacher and mentor Dr Mark Atkinson, that you could use when you next find yourself in a stressful situation (6 steps):
Breathe deeply and ask yourself a question! Is it a threatening situation? Yes or No?
If not, then soften your eyes and monitor closely what is coming up inside of you.
Welcome your experience with a smile. Whatever it is, say to it ‘I am pleased you are here’ (you are perfectly safe, remember?)
Feel what's arising ‘now’, keep dropping from the head (no more reasoning required). Be the one with the body in the present moment
Any tension left, repeat the process - soften and sink in the body
Feel the joy arising, be the joy and move on!
If it does not work for the first time, do not worry. Our mind is highly conditioned and as with all new practices it needs some time in order to work. Rule number one is always to be gentle to yourself!
How to Be Even Energised from Stress Response?
This is nothing new of course! What we are doing here is shifting from sympathetic to parasympathetic nervous system (‘parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is one of the two functionally distinct and continuously active divisions of the autonomic nervous system (ANS).- It is the opposite to the other; the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The parasympathetic nervous system predominates in quiet, “rest and digest” conditions while the sympathetic nervous system drives the “fight or flight” response in stressful situations’ (6).
Stress puts you immediately into a sympathetic response mode - fight or flight. This reaction to external events is only the actuality of your conditioned mind and highly depends on your personal experiences from the past. It always comes from the mind! This is just how the mind works, and that’s perfectly fine. Just accept that.
What you need to understand is, in that particular moment of arousal, whatever happened and you did not capture consciously, cannot be changed anymore. It’s in the past already.
But what you can do is when realisation comes, accept from your heart what your experiences are and sink through it!
These are your experiences, so do not neglect or even worse - fight with them! Instead let them be, and be conscious about it.
This is a great place to start towards becoming free from your past!
Every time you get stressed your mind ‘shuts the door’ to your direct experience. By saying the phrase ‘I am pleased you are here’ and deeply breathing in, you are becoming available to the present moment again. Be willing to open up to your experience. Feel what you feel and sink through. Do not be afraid, it is perfectly safe to be together with your experience. If your mind wonders, keep reconnecting and flowing together with the rhythm of your breath. Allow the present moment to flood your experience. You will notice that in that presence, stress dissolves and bondless peace and joy comes in. Allow yourself to be in that moment, for however long you wish.
The good news is, that deeper dimension is always available to you - please remember that!
Now, knowing you have that choice available to you - how do you feel?
(feel free to share your experience in comment box below)
The biggest issue here is what we define as a threatening situation, which as we know now, will trigger a cascade of responses within the body accordingly. We don’t want high cortisol levels running through our bloodstream constantly. It can be devastating!
We need to be really very careful what we think. Always ask yourself - is it really a matter of life or death? I assure you that most situations we approach as threatening are in fact far far away from it!
How about an ultimate change in the way that we approach life?
What if things in life are happening for me, not against me so I can challenge myself, adapt and learn to become a better person?!
This will put you to a sweet spot and connect to your parasympathetic nervous system in many upcoming challenges. This is the place to live and respond from. Not only you but also your external world, family and those around you will benefit from the way you act.
You can respond with ease to most of the so-called stressful situations these days.
Do not waste your energy and try to control something or somebody that you will never have control over, but rather with your openness meet daily challenges, shift your attention inside and start proactively working to manage your inner space.
Welcome whatever comes your way and respond from your heart in your own unique way.
Receive deeply what is being offered to you from life with grace and gratitude.
In those moments there is a chance to make amazing discoveries about what's true for you - to evolve and show up stronger.
This is the only way you can impact and change the world around you! See it for yourself!
What to Do if I Face a Life Threatening Situation - covid-19?
The question about covid-19. It is a matter of survival, no doubt. We need to ask ourselves whether we built that capacity within us to cope with the ‘biggest enemy’ for this generation or have we fallen asleep? Have we been prepared for it both individually and as society?
Stressing out and panicking will not help - in fact it makes it even worse as we already know!
Fortunately there is still a lot we can do about it, bearing in mind the unknown future challenges. For that all of us need to take full responsibility for our own health, and proactively do our best to be prepared.
How to do it?
Take super self-care of your amazing body/mind vehicle!
Feed your guts with the right stuff! We know that majority of our immune system lies in the guts, which is built like the rest of the body from our food choices, therefore you should ensure that it is built from the highest quality food you can get to fortify your defense system (the general rule is to eat real food/not processed, mainly seasonal and local, ensure there is plenty of fibre from vegetables and fruits and consider some fermented food in your diet)
Feed your mind with the right stuff! Get curious about what makes you a better and stronger human being from good sources of information, ensure you spend most of the time in parasympathetic mode - do what you love, learn to meditate, do yoga, martial arts, eat mindfully, sleep calmly and deeply (remember to mind you thoughts, you certainly do not want to go ‘in fighting’ mode and take past day ‘problems’ with you to bed).
Stay super hydrated from dawn to dusk with highest quality water you can get
Be physically active throughout the day, move regularly and frequently - remember the sentence ‘walking is the medicine, seating is disease (unless resting)’.
You are not alone. Connect with loved ones and others who can support you, if physically this is not an option, there are many other ways we can do this via our tech these days.
Before you make any choice, ask yourself a question, would that enrich or diminish my health (that includes watching or listening to the news - better go for a walk while listening to nature or your favourite podcast)?
Remember, there is always a choice available for you to consciously monitor your day and help the body to heal without further unnecessary damage to it! Every moment counts - choose wisely. Wishing you Greater Health!
I Will Be Running Interactive Online Courses in the Near Future to Facilitate ‘Stress Free’ Practices any More - Subscribe to My Website and Stay Tuned!
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