Let’s talk about stress. What is stress really? We all know what it feels like, but since the cause of stress is different for all of us it’s hard to define what it is. According to The American Institute of Stress, stress can be defined as a perceived barrier to a desired outcome. There really isn’t much you can do to avoid experiencing stress, and for many of us, stress is a constant companion.
What we don’t often consider is the physiological toll prolonged exposure to stress exacts on our bodies and minds. When you experience stress, the body treats this as a threat and the hypothalamus in your brain sets off an alarm system in your body. This alarm releases a surge of adrenaline and cortisol throughout your body and triggers the fight or flight response. Adrenaline increases your heart rate and elevates blood pressure. Cortisol suppresses nonessential functions such as digestion and the immune system. Long-term activation of the fight or flight response in your body puts you at increased risk of developing health problems such as anxiety, depression, heart disease and other chronic medical conditions.
For a moment, pause to think about sitting on a quiet beach, your feet are tucked in the warm sand, a gentle breeze is tickling your face and the sound of the crashing waves is the only thing you hear. Or, perhaps you are standing on a mountain top overlooking a beautiful, lush river valley, the air is crisp and clean and you are taking a long, deep breath with the hope to draw it all in. What do you feel when you consider these scenarios? Do you long for the opportunity to head to the nearest beach or mountaintop? If so, I believe you are tapping into an internal wisdom that is telling you to find a way to reduce your stress and increase your resiliency.
There are many ways to develop the ability to re-regulate your body after the stress response is triggered. Examples include eating a healthy diet, practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, finding time for hobbies, developing healthy relationships, and volunteering. Personally, deep breathing is my favorite “go to” stress-reducing technique. A simple exercise is to inhale deeply to the count of four, hold your breath for a count of four, exhale for a count of four and hold your breath for a count of four. In just 16 seconds, you can help your body remember its natural biofeedback loop to combat stress.
Practicing stress reducing techniques is the first step to a healthier mind and body. Share with us: what do you to combat stress in the workplace?
Cara Graham Cynkar, CWPC, Vitality Wellness Strategy Manager, Chopra Center Certified Meditation Teacher, mother of 4 fabulous kids, deep thinker and passionate about self-improvement and personal growth.