Whereas stress is constantly present in our lives, we might not be doing everything we can to overcome the negative effects it can have on us. This weekly blog series offers a collection of diverse and effective coping techniques that can reduce stress, improve mental and emotional well-being, and perhaps make you even more effective in achieving your individual goals. Check back every Monday morning for the newest skill of the week and commit to trying one or all of these skills several times to see which ones fit you best.
How Does Stress Affect Us
Our bodies have a built in system for keeping us alive and functioning during a crisis called the Stress Response System also known as the Fight-Flight- Freeze Response. This system is a true lifesaver in an emergency; it allows us to respond automatically when events get too intense for us to process in our typical manner. The problem is that sometimes this system misfires, which can create certain problems. A dog barking at you on your walk to work is not a threat to your safety, but sometimes your body responds as if you are under threat, even though you aren’t. The trouble is that this misfiring can occur more and more often if you’re typical stress level is higher than it should be.
However, you can learn to calm your Stress Response System back down when it gets activated and improve its accuracy by reducing your resting stress level and practicing relaxation techniques.
Let’s first examine the stress response system to understand how it works.
The Stress Response System – Your Body’s Emergency Autopilot
The Stress Response System is a lot like having an autopilot system that kicks into “Crisis Mode” whenever the plane hits too much turbulence. The system switches modes automatically whenever it perceives danger and prioritizes safety and survival over all other concerns.
Being able to jump into “Crisis Mode” as needed is vital to the safety of the whole operation, though it has some drawbacks: it takes more fuel to run, it is tough on the engine, and it is hard to turn back off once it has been triggered.
Understanding The Stress Response System
Your body has two main modes during wakefulness: “Alert Mode” and “Crisis Mode”
- Your body feels relaxed and alert
- Your Central Nervous System is regulated and calm
- Your brain is functioning flexibly, you are able to think clearly about the past, the present, and the future and adjust perspective to understand complex problems and think of creative solutions
- You’re thrown into either Fight, Flight, or Freeze response
- Your Central Nervous System is dysregulated and on high alert which triggers a flood of Adrenaline and Cortisol
- Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood
- Cortisol increases sugars in the bloodstream giving you a quick pressure and boosts energy supplies getting you ready to run, fight, or freeze/hide until the danger passes boost of energy and suppresses the immune system, digestive system, reproductive system and growth processes to divert all available energy into short term survival
- Your brain works differently: your thinking becomes black and white, often over focusing on details and missing the big picture, you are not able to reflect on the past or think through possibilities for the future
Going into “Crisis Mode” too often due to the stresses of everyday life makes it hard to function day-to- day, wears your body down, and can contribute to many health issues.
Bring your system back into balance with the Relaxation Response
No one can avoid all stress, but you can learn how to produce the Relaxation Response, a state of deep rest that is the opposite of “Crisis Mode.” The Relaxation Response brings your body and mind back into a state of equilibrium as you return to “Relaxed and Alert Mode.”
When the Relaxation Response is activated:
- Your heart rate decreases
- Your breathing becomes slower and deeper
- Your blood pressure drops or stabilizes
- Your muscles relax
- Your immune system begins to help you heal
- You experience increased energy and focus
- Your brain function is improved with increased problem-solving abilities, motivation and productivity
Learn Our Favorite Techniques
To help you learn techniques that can trigger your body’s natural Relaxation Response, the therapists at The Catalyst Center have compiled a few of our favorite techniques. We will release one skill on a weekly basis to help equip you with the best and most effective coping skills. Try each one out and see what resonates with you. Experiment with using these techniques right before bed to help you unwind for sleep, upon waking to start the day off on the right foot, or during stressful moments in your day. Check back for the newest skill every Monday morning.