Minding Your Body: Stress

STRESS! It can invade our lives like gnats at a garden party on a hot summer day. The intrusion is not only annoying but, relentless in a way that affects our well-being. Allopathic, holistic and mind/body sciences show convincing evidence that high blood pressure, digestive irregularities, hormonal imbalances, joint pain, anxiety disorders and abnormal skin conditions can be the physical manifestation of an unbalanced lifestyle. Media hype often attributes stress as the bane of all woes – most particularly as a source of illness. Alfred Cooley, a top stress researcher at the University of California, asserts that stress is “The most wide-spread problem in America today. It is a major contributing factor in 100% of diseases.” If this statement is accurate, the remedy seems simple – reduce your stress and you will improve your health.

To implement this strategy requires an understanding of what stress is. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines stress as such: “To subject to pressure or strain; to distress”. That seems rather “subject-ive”? What may be pressure or strain to one individual may be a simple task for another. One wouldn’t compare being wedged in rush-hour traffic to a parent, struggling with earning enough money for next month’s rent and providing sustenance for their children. Or what about an independent grad student who is determined to maintain a competitive grade point average while working a full-time job? On a global perspective, how are many Americans “stressed out” when much of the world lives in abject poverty? My father was correct when he often declared, “It’s all relative”. However, your body doesn’t know that.

The human body reacts to all stress in exactly the same way - by engaging the “fight or flight” mechanisms that have been programmed in our genes for ages. Whether it’s “fighting” traffic or in “flight” from a predator, it engages the sympathetic nervous system. If distress is perceived, the physiological functions automatically employ - breathing, blood pressure and heart rate increase to divert more blood and oxygen to the extremities for a quick get-away; production of blood glucose, adrenaline and cortisol escalate to provide more energy and strength for combat; the entire nervous system becomes alert and we feel an insurmountable sense of urgency. These functions deploy instantly and demand a tremendous supply of energy. It is no wonder that it quickly depletes the body’s resources - disengaging only when the perceived danger has passed. Therein lies the problem.

The caveat with our self-induced, hectic lifestyles is we fail to “dis-engage ‘. While the biological systems remain turned on, we are further burdened by our body’s attempt to “save” us. Eventually, systems are over-taxed and deterioration ensues. So what is the solution? A simple one can be to fool your body.

Since your brain does not differentiate between immediate danger and a demanding life-style and your brain is a slave to your mind - try changing your mind. As free-thinking beings, we already do it all the time so, why not reprogram ourselves for the benefit?

The body responds in synchrony with beliefs. If signaled you are in danger or under duress, the fight or flight system activates. Conversely, if you change the perception to one that evokes a sense of serenity, it will induce rest (the parasympathetic nervous system) as well as healing and immunity-building responses.

Hypnotists use the same principle by introducing suggestion to the subconscious mind to change perception of the conscious mind. Convincing your body that it can remain relaxed and at peace while facing life’s daily challenges is akin to self-hypnosis. Conscious, slow breathing with focused, pleasant thought will immediately slow heart rate and divert attention from a stressful situation.

In a visualization program, conducted by Dr. Denis Waitley in the 80’s and 90’s, Olympic athletes were electronically monitored for brain activity while visualizing themselves running their event. The results were exactly the same as having physically run the same race – fooling the brain into believing it was actually moving. Such is the power of the mind.

Numerous studies in both conventional and alternative medicine have reached the same conclusion - the brain responds to what you believe. Therefore, if you approach conflict with a sense of calm deliberation, you may not only ease your body’s burden but also, achieve a sense of inner peace. Given a choice, it is well worth the thought.

~Cassandra Curley

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