Power of Stress and the Mind

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How does stress and your mind work? In the mid 1930s, endocrinologist, Hans Selye made the link of different types of stressors on the body and what those outcomes were. When Selye was asked if modern life had become too stressful, he said “People often ask me that question, sometimes comparing our lives with that of the caveman…They forget that the caveman worried about being eaten by a bear while he was asleep, or about dying of hunger, things that few people worry about much today…It’s not that people suffer stress today. It’s just they think they do.” This is why for the modern man, meditation is critical; if we can balance our mind with our body, we have the ability to manage life stressors in a healthy way.

What does stress do to the body physiologically? Remember not all stress is bad, it is just when it compounds and when we feel helpless that it becomes out of control. Stressful situations causes the adrenal glands, which sit on top of our kidneys, to pump out a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol levels can vary throughout the day- typically higher in the morning and lower at night. Cortisol patterns tend to elevate more rapidly with stress, this causes a dampening of our immune system. It is okay to have a slight alteration in your immune system, but chronic cortisol elevation creates a systemically weakened immune system. Clinical research has shown over the past 20 years, people who suffer from chronic stress stay sick longer and in general take longer to heal. People who are stressed with no ability to cope or manage their levels of stress often have worse symptoms when there is a lack of exercise, poor sleep, smoking, consumption of alcohol. Across many medical communities it is widely accepted that stress plays a part in reducing our immune systems. It is critical to learn strategies to reduce stress, especially in the current environment.

Reducing stress levels is a three-step process. Just telling a patient to reduce stress levels is counterproductive. The first step is checking in with yourself, meaning taking five minutes to reflect on your current day and how you feel; immediately you will know if you are feeling stressed by your thoughts, tension in your body, and/or breathing pattern. Second, if you have identified you are feeling stressed, mentally go through the sequence of your day. It is suggested not to think of the next several days as this can further raise your anxiety. Is there a trigger that you have identified as a stress amplifier when you are mentally going through your day? Oftentimes there is either too much you are trying to do in the day, or there is a deadline/ event you are absolutely dreading. In the first case, identify what you can take off of the list. Is it critical that it be done today? If the answer is “No,” push the item to a day that is manageable for you. If the stress is associated with a deadline or event you know you are absolutely dreading, learning how to meditate to manage that stress is critical (we will teach you how).It is essential to set yourself up for success in managing stress. Oftentimes we say we are “Not Stressed” but our physical bodies say otherwise, we become tight, anxious, and start breathing rapidly. Check in with yourself when you catch yourself tensing up; pay attention to your breathing, is it deep from your belly or short from your chest? Are you tight at the top of your shoulders (this is the typical tension point when stress is present)? Are you feeling like you have no time mentally or a sense of uncontrolled urgency aka anxiety? Meditation is truly the key to success when managing these symptoms of stress.

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