As I write this in early June, we are into the fifth month of this virus and protesting is happening all over the world; unemployment is high and people are wondering how they will make it month to month. It has been an incredibly stressful time for most of us and the presidential election could cause more stress. All of this is piled on top of virus-related and “routine” stressors in our lives.
It is possible to take charge of how we deal with stress. Watching the news or even having that energy pouring into our homes and bodies all day is not a good idea. It is time to relax. Take time for quiet solitude each day, a wise move. All of this helps reduce the stress level.
Stress is a response to feeling threatened. It trips off the flight-or-fight response and releases a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, and rouses the body for emergency action. Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens or stops, and your senses become sharper. In addition to all those reactions, digestion gets sluggish so blood and energy can be sent to your legs to help you run from the threat; regulation issues can abound including difficulty sleeping or eating, increased anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity. All of this plays havoc on your health especially if sustained over a long period of time. If stress is not attended to, it can ultimately lead to major and life-threatening health issues.
Since the stress we are enduring these days has no immediate end in sight, it is more than time to get serious about taking charge of it so it is not injuring you. Exercise, healthy eating, fluids and meditation are basic tools but they are not enough.
The biggest cause of stress is what goes on between your ears. If you just think there is a lion behind you, your body quickly responds by preparing you to flee or fight because your brain believes your thoughts.
Consider that the average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those thousands of thoughts, 80 percent are negative and 95 percent are exactly the same repetitive thoughts as the day before. As you repeat thoughts, the pathway in our brains to those thoughts is strengthened making it more likely that you will repeat the thought. The pathway weakens if it is not reinforced.
The first thing that changes or stops under stress is your breath. Taking long slow breaths is a good place to begin to create calm. Why not stop every hour and take a few long breaths, get present and create or maintain calm?
Affirm peace. Your brain will believe that thought, too.
Mary Friedel-Hunt MA LCSW is a clinical social worker, thanotologist and certified bereavement counselor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; P.O. Box 1036, Spring Green, WI 53588; or www.PersonalGrowthandGriefSupportCenter.com. Vincent Kavaloski’s “Parables and Ponderings” will return next month.