Let’s Talk About Stress
Stress. We hear this word constantly, so much so that, dare I say, it’s lost its effect. It’s the pat answer for so many problems these days. Thanks for letting me know my issues are arising from stress… now what do I do about it? Right?
Well, let’s talk about it. What is stress? It’s typically the body and mind’s response to a stressor, something that creates tension, frustration, fear, confusion, pain or anything else that communicates a lack of safety. Your stressors are unique to you. What might cause deep stress for one person may only create a slight stress for another based on personality, past and present traumas, genetics, environment and much more. I’ll say it again, you are unique.
What does this mean? It means you are going to be put in a state of physical and mental stress by things that others will not in life. If you’re ever told you’re making it up or that it’s all in your head don’t be discouraged. We both know you’re not. The other person simply does not have the understanding of your unique personhood and is not able or willing to take that into consideration. Hold on to this perspective and take whatever they have to say next with a gallon of salt.
Why is Stress the Go-To Answer for Health Issues?
Back to stress as the problem… Why is it being pegged as the cause of everything? Well, because it’s connected to a key piece of our physiology (the function of our body). Stress can activate a part of our nervous system that is not healthy, long term. This portion of our nervous system is involuntary and called the sympathetic nervous system. Like the beating of your heart, reactions to stress occur whether you ask for them or not. Are you familiar with the popular phrase “fight or flight”. It’s simply today’s common descriptor for the sympathetic state, created to jumpstart the body in cases of emergency.
While helpful in true emergencies, the body unfortunately can be stimulated and pushed into this state from supposedly simple, modern “stressors” that are with us every. single. day. This creates a compounding effect of stressful day upon stressful day, quickly leading to a constant sympathetic or what I like to call an alarm state.
What’s so bad about the alarm state? Well, to understand this you have to understand the opposite of the alarm state. This is what I call the calm state. In the calm state the sympathetic and its counter point the parasympathetic are both turning on and staying on when needed. If you’re unfamiliar, the parasympathetic is your rest, digest and detox mode. This is what you want driving your body everyday. When this portion of the autonomic (involuntary, like your heart-beat) nervous system is turned on you’re able to function normally, sleep deeply, receive nourishment and clear out toxins. Sounds great, right? It is.
The problem arises when you move out of the calm state because stressors are continually activating your sympathetic state. Here’s the kicker, your sympathetic and parasympathetic can not be turned on at the same time. It’s one or the other. If you’re in a constant state of alarm, you’re not resting to the point of rejuvenation, digesting fully or clearing out your toxin build up.
The body is brilliant, but can only compensate for so long. Depending on your unique composition, it may take a few months, years or even decades (lucky ones) to really feel the effects, but you will experience dysfunction and if you didn’t know, dysfunction leads to disease. Kinda unsettling, right? Is the concern around stress starting to make more sense?
Find Authentic Calm in the Chaos of Stress
Okay, so what do you do about it? Remember the discussion around unique stressors? As much you might enjoy the acknowledgement of being unique, it can make it tough to nail down your specific stressors, unless you take the time to reflect and record your patterns, unless you own the responsibility of learning your body. I cannot emphasize the importance of learning the language of your body enough. It’s the key to true recovery. Don’t expect doctors or other expert to do the work for you, most often they will not. You are responsible for looking at your whole personhood and navigating its intricacies.
My best advice is to take a moment each night to record how you felt throughout the day. It can as simple as one or two sentences. Reflect back on triggers, moments of anxiety or tension. What caused them? How did it make your body feel? Light headed? Hot or flushed? Hivey? Fidgety? Stomach cramps? How about your mind? Scared? Overwhelmed? Foggy? Write it down. Begin to record and identify your unique stressors. This is the best way to begin. Once you have identify what is clear to you in this season, begin to incorporate ways to soften and return to your calm state. Here are a few suggestions for you. If you still find it’s tough to get out of the alarm state, i.e. your health issue will not resolve, you’re struggling with anxiety, depression or cannot seem to pause in life, then it’s time to call in the expert. Meet with a practitioner, like me or a holistic therapist (I’ll be creating a resource list of more experts soon!). Honor your body and mind and take the time to dive deep. We will help you uncover the stressors that are not obvious to you and may be hiding deep in the body or subconsciously in the mind. Stress does not need to overtake your life. It will always be there, but I truly believe you can find your authentic calm in the chaos by identifying , softening and shifting your stressors.