Stress is becoming an epidemic in our culture. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, stress is the number one health epidemic of the 21st century. While a stress response is a normal function for our bodies and we definitely need it in certain circumstances, being constantly stressed is not healthy and can make us sick. As hard as we try we cannot stop stressful things from happening in our lives. But we can learn to dance differently with it.
Jon Kabat- Zinn said, “You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” This analogy can absolutely apply to stress. By actively engaging with our stress we can reduce its negative effects and build resiliency, which allows us to feel more energetic and be more playful in life. We can do this by working on upgrading our nervous system, engaging in stress-reduction activities, changing our perception of stress, and getting to the origin of chronic stress, which is often rooted in early traumatic life experiences.
Upgrade my nervous system to interact with stress in a calmer way
Yoga once or twice a week may not be enough to manage stress; some of us need daily and hourly stress reduction techniques. If this is the case, use guided visualizations, meditations throughout the day, but especially when waking up or before going to bed. Popular guided visualizations can be found on Headspace, and the Stop, Breathe, and Think app. Using alternative nose breathing, called Nadi Shodhana, which settles the breath quickly, calms the nervous system and increases focus.
Call a friend
We are hard wired as mammals to connect with each other, especially in response to threats and stress. Women have a biological instinct to “tend and befriend”. According to the Polyvagal Theory developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, the "Social Nervous System" is an affiliative neurocircuitry that prompts connection and belonging. This feeling of connection increases Oxytocin (a feel-good hormone) which then reduces our stress response and calms our nervous system. So the next time you feel stressed, make sure to reach out and call a friend!
Go to sleep by 10:00 pm every night
Sleep is restorative and allows our bodies each day to experience REM (Rapid Eye Movement), which allows us to process the day’s events. Sleep is also a time when our bodies are designed to go into “rest and digest mode”. During the rest and digest mode our bodies are in the parasympathetic nervous system which helps to create equilibrium in the body, allowing us to recover and replenish.
People who are under stress will often feel tired and wired. They may notice cortisol peaks later at night before bedtime or may wake up in the middle of the night with cortisol spikes. Keeping a regular sleep schedule helps your body to develop a pattern of rest. If you continue to have difficulties getting 8 hours of sleep you can meet with a naturopathic physician to get to the root cause and receive help regulating your sleep.
Have a gratitude practice
It is always easy to look for what is going wrong rather than what is going right. Unfortunately this shapes the ways we think in an unhelpful way. Thanks to neuroplasticity we can rewire our brains to think and act differently. There is a saying that what fires together wires together. So finding time each day for thoughts of gratitude help your brain becomes more resilient to stress.
Reduce the effects of stress with a healthy gut
Just thinking about all of life’s obligations and to-do lists can leave our stomach in knots — and for good reason. Recurrent stress — the heightened sense of urgency, anxiety, fear, or even adrenaline can literally chip away at our gut or microbiome. Recent studies have even suggested that a microbiome influenced by stress can lead to the type of inflammation that is tied to mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. To have a healthy gut you want to reduce your stress and aim for a diet high in whole and plant-based foods with an emphasis on prebiotic fiber.
Stress can “wake you up”
View stress differently than a bad thing that is happening to you, and instead inquire by asking yourself, “What is here for me to learn”? “How can I grow from this experience”? One way of looking at all of the bad things that happen to us and all of the stress it causes is by allowing ourselves to use it to learn and grow. As Ernest Hemingway once said, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”
Get to the root of chronic “out-of-control” stress
Making lifestyle changes is important in learning to dance with stress. But research shows us stress is also cumulative. If we grow up in a family where stress is abundant then our nervous system gets wired to be in a constant stress state and our perception of the world and others causes us to be on alert for safety. Therefore, besides lifestyle changes, it is also important for us to process distressing life events.
EMDR therapy helps people process the origins of their initial stress to help reset their nervous system so they can feel more resilient to current-day stress and experience more joy, energy and playfulness in their lives. There is so much information about EMDR therapy and I am here to help you process it, find out if it could benefit you, and get your started with it.
Lemecia Lindsey is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker and a Certified EMDR Therapist and EMDR Consultant. She began her early counseling work in community agencies and schools, helping children and teenagers who were struggling with social, emotional and behavioral issues, and providing family therapy. Her desire to help children and their families with complex emotional issues led her to explore and later be trained in the most advanced therapeutic approaches for treating trauma.
To schedule an EMDR therapy session email or call Lemecia.