Hearing the word can be overwhelming.
Not to alarm you, but the following statistics are scary.
A survey conducted in May of 2017 determined the percentage of people affected by stress: (https://www.statisticbrain.com/stress-statistics/)
- 77% – experience physical symptoms caused by stress
- 73% – cite money and work as leading cause
- 48% – lie awake at night due to stress
- 33% – are living under extreme stress – that’s 1 out of every 3 people
We all go through times of difficulty. Stress is a daily reality.
It doesn’t have to become toxic stress which, we now know, contributes to various illnesses.
There is good news….
Stress doesn’t have to overwhelm and consume your life.
The key is knowing what triggers your stress, also known as “stressors,”. You can learn how to communicate with your body in reaction to the stimuli.
It may not seem easy at first because it will be like learning a new language. It will take time to learn because it’s not completely a cognitive process.
You can develop the ability to respond vs. react to stressful stimulus.
Let me explain…
Your physiology (the way your body works) is automatic.
This means that you don’t have to be conscious of how to digest food, of each breath you take, or even how to contract your muscles to run or defend yourself in an emergency.
It happens because you have an autonomic nervous system.
It’s in charge of your survival responses to threatening situations.
And often, you don’t even know you’re reacting from these survival strategies. They are instinctual and primal (not a cognitive response).
Stress is Nothing New…
Discussions about stress and anxiety are in the news today.
It’s become the latest and greatest craze to worry about.
Suddenly, it’s a fad. People are using buzz words like “nervous system regulation” and “settling”.
Mindfulness has become popular…yet, people are still stuck in traumatic narratives. That’s because the importance of the non-cognitive process is largely being left out.
So, together we will explore a new way of looking at stress which isn’t entirely intellectual. Our biology is not intelligent because of an academic understanding.
It is instinctual, primal and automatic.
Six decades ago, in his book, The Stress of Life, Dr. Hans Selye writes,
“interactions with other human beings – in particular, emotional interactions—-affect our biological functioning in myriad and subtle ways almost every moment of our lives.”
Sadly, modern medicine diverted from the qualitative observations of early pioneers when it comes to emotions and our biology.
There is hope because cutting-edge research, specifically, neuroscience is beginning to support the work of early researchers like Dr. Selye.
How Stress Leads to Overwhelm
Some interactions with people are enjoyable, fun, and there are times that you relish.
You also have had interactions with others that have left you feeling angry, frustrated, sad or disgusted. These interactions triggered you into a state of agitation, unrest, or even, a subtle state of annoyance.
Then here’s the kicker.
It’s not the actual event that left you feeling any one of these emotions but how you processed and felt about the event…
Some people will bury their emotions and experiences. Store them in a “to do” pile. Hoping they can get to them when they have a chance but life just keeps getting in the way. This just leads to more avoidant behavior that slowly and insidiously seeps into all aspects of life.
Soon they’re overwhelmed and feeling numb.
Before you know it you’re in your 40’s, your body is breaking down much earlier than expected because of stress accelerating the normal aging process.
The Three Components of Stress:
- The event which triggers the stressor-response
- The meaning that is given to the event by the individual conscious or unconsciously.
- The physical and emotional reactions to the event either as a real or perceived threat.
The important thing to remember is that depending on how you (actually, your autonomic nervous system) respond to stressors will greatly determine the impact of the event.
Depending on the intensity or the event your reaction will not be cognitive because reactions to threat are automatic and primal. Which is why you react without thinking!
This is precisely why the same event can have varying degrees of stress upon different people.
Someone might end up in bed for a week after a fender bender while another person might get out of their car, take a look and see no damage, brush it off as if nothing happened.
We each have unique nervous systems, personalities and psychological process (Thank God!) when exposed to stressors.
This is important, Dr. Gabor Mate says,
“There is no uniform and universal relationship between a stressor and the stress response.”
Part of the way you respond to stress is your own personal history, as well as your physical and mental health at the time of the event.
So, what makes you feel worried, stressed and overwhelmed is completely subjective to you.
There is no wrong or right way to deal with stress, just your way.
The stressor that may immobilize someone else might be inconsequential to you.
And vice versa.
There’s no comparison.
That’s great news because you can now, and forever, stop comparing your process against anyone else, and there is nothing wrong with you.
Learning How to Become More Resilient
Stress doesn’t have to be a killer.
Here’s the good news…..
Stress doesn’t have to be a reason to just survive but can also be a catalyst to thrive.
As you learn to tap in and turned toward what you are feeling, instead of bottling it up and locking it away, you will soon develop the subtle awareness for your triggers, stressors, and responses.
You will be able to see them for what they are and not what you were worried about.
They will become messengers for you, helping to guide you to a more full and vibrant life.
You can feel vital and your life can be full of energy again.
My passion is helping creative people like you to:
- become your own medicine, so you can heal yourself
- inspire you to heal on all levels, emotionally, spiritually and physically
- tune into your Self, tap into what you’re feeling and what you need
- express those needs without guilt or shame
- create, communicate, and maintain healthy boundaries
In time, you will learn to understand your nervous system.
You will be able to see how it affects your physiology, both physically and emotionally, and your response to stressors.
So, what can I “do” right now to feel better?
3 simple tips to become more aware and settled vs reacting to stressors:
1. Give Yourself a Time Out for Self Care
- What do you enjoy doing?
- Do that more, notice the pleasure of the action….
- pause and notice how you know it feels good, inside your body.
- Can you feel your blood flowing? Do you notice if your chest is lighter?
- How do you know the activity feels “good”? Does something relax internally?
- Describe the goodness to yourself in as much detail as possible.
- Can you feel yourself taking a deeper breath? Does your belly feel more relaxed?
- Notice if you can feel the “goodness” in your body, physically.
It’s totally ok if you don’t notice anything and it’s a general sense of well being, relaxation. Remember this is a new language, we’re so used to being in our head and intellectualizing as a culture.
2. Remind yourself “what is right?”
Next, notice what is right, what’s working, what’s good even the smallest thing that is ok or good.
Exaggerate it if necessary.
What you are doing here is hijacking the mental wiring from caveman ancestors. To them, anything out of the ordinary, had the potential to kill. So they were always on high alert. Good thing too, because if they had perished, you wouldn’t be here able to read this now. We still have the same primal wiring, so anything threatening can seem like a tiger lurking in the bushes.
So pause, stop reading and literally see what is going on around you right now. Notice that you are safe, at this moment.
3. Download and read my free e-book How to Destress In 7 Simple Steps.
Yes, I know this is a shameless plug for my guidebook. But I wouldn’t recommend it if I didn’t know with absolute certainty that it will help you and it’s free. 🙂
I’ll show you some of the exact same techniques, tools, and tips that I share with my private practice clients, saving you money and time (plus you won’t need to deal with the stress-inducing Los Angeles traffic to see me!)
Practice them regularly.
Yes, like every day!
It’s important to allow yourself time every day to practice these tips, once or twice at different times for a few seconds to minutes. This process will help bring what is usually not cognitive (primal reactions) into more awareness, creating a greater sense of safety.
Over time, you will take advantage of the latest scientific research on neuro-plasticity (fancy word for how to teach an old dog, new tricks) and change the neuro-pathways in your brain!
It’s good news because you can and will respond to stress in a totally different way.
Commit for two weeks, at least.
Take the time to journal how you experience, express, and evolve.
Journalling is important, the shifts will be subtle and the journal will allow you to look back later to track the differences.
Many times we don’t notice these shifts because the brain is focused on the next challenge. It is very important to track these gentle changes. You will shift from what’s wrong thinking to what’s right thinking, but it will take some time.
Stress Is Not an Event
Stress is NOT an event.
The stress-disease connection is not a new concept.
Dr. Gabor Mate is a medical doctor and educator about this very topic.
In his book, When the Body Says No, Dr. Mate says,
“Medical thinking usually sees stress as a highly disturbing but isolated event such as for example, sudden unemployment, a marriage break up or death of a loved one”.
Modern medical understanding of the stress is incomplete and inaccurate. Because stress is not an event.
Stress is… Dr. Mate continues,
“…how our physiology responds to the event.”
He also says,
“…modern medicine still doesn’t appreciate the full impact of this truth. The approach is that the mind is separate from the body creating an (overly) simplified and narrow definition of stress”.
So let’s explore exactly what stress is, keeping in mind it varies on an individual basis. Each of us reacts and respond to stressors uniquely.
The Adrenaline Addiction
It’s like an addiction….overcoming toxic stress isn’t easy.
Your brain can’t seem to break the cycle…you get stuck in thinking…
Let me notice all the things that aren’t working out for me….
What’s wrong – now?
Or projecting into the future..
….that little voice inside insisting….”something is wrong”…
“What’s going to happen next?”
…”Something bad is about to happen”…
“I don’t feel safe.” I don’t know if I ever felt safe. Many people have never had a sense of safety, ever. That’s another story and we’ll explore that in the future…
…”OMG, this is bad! There really is something wrong with me”. The other shoe will drop if I’m not alert.
Thoughts spiral to the next bad thought until you can’t breathe or you’re having a panic attack. Most people aren’t even aware of this subtle insidious mental mind-fuck they are doing to themselves.
But….it is happening and you might “feel out of control”.
Many of us are completely unaware that our brain and body is being hijacked by a survival process.
There might not be a tiger chasing you. But your brain doesn’t know the difference. Your body thinks you’re about to become dinner.
Nowadays, we don’t normally deal with tigers in the forest, instead, we have bosses and bullies.
So when your boss pressures you to meet a deadline. The same stress hormones flood your body as if you’re being hunted by a hungry tiger.
Your autonomic nervous system doesn’t know the difference.
Or you’re having the thought that you’ll be a disappointment to someone. The same thing, the outcome is that you’re dinner to that imaginary tiger. You go into a fight, flight or freeze response automatically.
Your physiology is going wacky because of real and imagined threats. Your body is no longer under your control.
Signs of Overwhelming Stress:
- sleepless nights
- shortness of breath
- difficulty digesting food
- tightness in your chest, neck, shoulders or jaw
- grinding your teeth at night
- disoriented, forgetful or brain fog (can’t focus)
- exhaustion, even after 8-12 hrs of sleep!
This is your body responding to stress and it leads to anxiety which leads to panic.
You might be experiencing any number of the sensations above because there is an entire cascade of hormones being released into your system. Responding to emotional and environmental stressors.
Your autonomic nervous system is doing what it does best, trying to manage threats.
Again, it’s like the name implies, automatic. Primal and not cognitive, you don’t even know it’s happening.
You don’t have to think about it, your body is reacting. Your autonomic nervous system is fully engaged.
How often does this happen to you? Let’s say you have a near-miss car accident. It was scary but nobody got hurt or killed. How often do you replay the events of that near miss over and over in your head?
You might feel an incredible tension in your neck, shoulders or jaw because your muscles are still braced to protect you. Or you didn’t see it coming and now you have chronic disorientation and tension.
Even though the danger has passed, you relive it over and over, and your body responds as if it’s happening in present time. The event may have occurred last week or 20 years ago, it doesn’t matter to your physiology, you become stuck in a threat cycle.
That’s how a little problem or issue have you stuck in a fight, flight or freeze survival pattern and eventually cause illness. Often the kind that is undiagnosable or auto-immune in nature because our bodies are not meant to stay in these states for long periods of time.
Stability, Resilience, and Moving Beyond Stress
The key then to developing resilience against stress is stopping or at least minimizing, the pattern of responding to stressors as a life or death event, (to stop seeing the tiger in the bushes).
Unless of course, it is a life or death event. Survival responses are meant to be time-limited. So even if there is a tiger crouching nearby and you do respond by outrunning him after a short while life should return to normal…
..but…often, we get stuck in feeling and thinking the event is still happening.
Secondly, to stop replaying uncomfortable situations over and over in your head. Refrain from continually repeating negative narratives, it’s like dangling a nice fresh chunk of meat in front of the imaginary tiger.
This will take the practice, bringing conscious awareness to a noncognitive story. Again, download my free e-book 7 Simple Steps To Destress. And practice.
Stability and resilience meaning that your nervous system can go back to business as usual without getting stuck in one or more of the survival states. Fight, flight or freeze are the states we automatically assume under threat. ANY threat, real or perceived.
It’s worth repeating….
Each individual’s ability to respond to stressors, how stable and resilient one can be is based on:
- family history
- how well connected one is to their emotions
- the general feeling of safety in the world
But they can all be improved by practicing self-care, taking the time to focus on what’s going on that is right rather than wrong, and breathing and feeling the body.
Give yourself a few moments, a few times throughout the day. Set a timer or alarm if you have to. I have 4 reminders on my phone each day because even I get caught up and forget sometimes.
30 Second Exercise:
Gently massage your two hands together, kneading the tension and strain out of them. Feel how strong, capable and flexible they are. Feel how they allow you to do so much with them. And breathe.
Go ahead. Take a couple of moments to close your eyes, breathe, and massage your hands together, feeling how good they feel.
Stop reading, allow yourself at least a minute to really notice (feel) your hands,
say out loud...
“these are my hands”…
Pause here and give it a try…
Did you do it?
If so, did that feel good? Check inside and notice how you know it felt good.
All it took was taking the time to slow down, to feel and allow yourself the process.
If you didn’t notice a difference? No sensation? It’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with you. This is a new language that is not a cognitive one and it takes time to connect down with bodily awareness.
It’s just you and me here, nobody is watching or judging.
Over time you will feel better, any stress you might be feeling will slowly be released and you can relax at least a little bit. Give it a try. It’s ok to just notice an overall sense of…something is better or a subtle difference even.
Good Stress vs. Bad Stress
Have you heard of “good stress”?
We’re generally told stress is bad, it ages us and makes us sick and contributes to disease.
What about the fact that stress can kill…
Wait…before your brain spirals into the abyss of what’s wrong…
You now know there is hope. Again, Not ALL stress is bad.
Stress can get us out of our comfort zones.
It might propel you to meet deadlines and do things you didn’t think possible.
A physical example of good stress:
It builds muscle and increases circulation. The increased flow of blood to tissues creates better health and vitality.
Did you lift more than you thought possible?
Congratulations. You also broke a mental barrier, leaving you feeling superhuman!
You now feel like you can achieve anything.
Be careful the brain might be switching to what is right thinking….. easy does it! We’re starting to get away from what’s wrong…. 🙂
The process of lifting weights tears muscle because of stress. The repair process results in the increase of strength and more muscle fiber.
Exercise increases stress on the heart. In a good way. The heart pumps blood into tissues and places that might otherwise be lacking circulation.
More blood flow = increased nutrients and vitality.
The stress of moderate exercise makes the heart stronger which increases fitness.
It is stressful to push beyond what you think you’re capable of. Pushing beyond a mental, emotional or physical comfort zone can be exhilarating. The success of experiencing a new edge is no longer stressful but rewarding. This is “good stress”.
It is thrilling to achieve a new level in business development. Or going on a first date that turned out to be exciting and engaging. That being vulnerable didn’t turn out in death.
Things turned out OK?
Wow, you might say….
Yup, we can learn to communicate with the part of the brain, the amygdala, that is akin to a fire detector. It’s on the hunt for danger, causing the addition of what’s wrong thinking.
So, back to reality…
Everything did work out better than expected.
You broke a boundary you didn’t think was possible. What’s wrong thinking shifts to what’s right…
I lifted more than last week and feel stronger than ever. My company reached a new threshold of sales. I’m actually excited to go on a second date, we communicated without effort.
PAUSE and absorb that. Really notice what is right and good. Feel it in your body.
We tend to be allergic to pausing and noticing pleasure.
Now you’re onto something, what’s right thinking…and feeling.
The stress that made you push forward was worth it after all. Feel the goodness of succeeding at something you thought was beyond your ability.
Remember an empowering good stress experience you’ve had. Visualize or imagine that experience in as much detail as possible.
What were you doing?
Notice it in as much detail as possible.
Pause after the memory and notice what is happening in your body right at this moment.
Describe to yourself what you are noticing now. Any pleasurable sensations? How are you now compared to before visualizing the event?
-Stress is not an event it is your reaction to that event, your autonomic nervous system may be stuck in a survival response because of perceived or actual threat.
– Make time for self-care: to relax, orient to pleasurable activities.
– Take time to focus on what is going right with your life as compared to thinking and worrying about what you think is wrong. Literally, name what is right out loud. For example, I made it. I’m here.
– To gain more tools to help you to manage stress and learn to relax again, download the FREE e-book How To Destress in 7 Simple Steps.
Remember, stress-inducing incidents happen to all of us. Daily.
For more detailed instructions on how to orient to pleasure, to pause and feel into your nervous system with greater ease.
Again, 🙂 Download How To Destress in 7 Simple Steps. I go into much greater detail on how to become more aware of your autonomic nervous system.
If you have any questions or want to schedule a free 15min consultation please contact me.
Or, please visit wellnessalchmeist.com for more information.
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Happy New Year may 2018 bring you abundance, joy, and love.