Improve your stress response

How do you cope with stress?  Do you have healthy coping mechanisms?

First of all, if you can’t identify your coping mechanisms, chances are you’re responding to stress in a physically reactive, maladaptive way!

We are hard-wired to respond to stress in a physiological manner, which prepares us for “fight or flight.”

Until relatively recent times, the “stress” that humankind usually dealt with was a physical threat that required a physical response–either defend yourself & fight the threat, or run!  For example, if the main stressor in your life was fear of getting attacked by a bear, and you came across a bear, you had to make a split second decision to either a) fight the bear, or b) run!  When faced with such a life-or-death decision, your body automatically (and unconsciously) knows what to do.

In the face of a threat, your body immediately increases your heart rate, increases blood flow to your arms & legs (and away from organs used for “maintenance”), and activates the pituitary and adrenal glands, which release stress hormones into your system.

The stress hormones released during “fight or flight” include ACTH & epinephrine (adrenalin), which trigger the production of cortisol.  Cortisol’s job is to increase blood pressure, increase blood sugar, & suppress the immune system (because all the body’s energy needs to go toward fighting or fleeing).  Other physiological reactions to threat include dry mouth, “tunnel vision,” and shaking.

Today, our lives generally do not involve life or death scenarios–even back in the day, true life-or-death scenarios were not a daily occurrence.   Alhough our stressors have changed, our bodies are still hard-wired to respond to stress in the same way–as if we’re in physical danger!  The “fight or flight” response is intended to be a short term solution to a temporary (although serious) threat, and it is highly effective.  However, keeping our bodies in “fight or flight” mode takes a huge physiological toll on us.

Most of our stress today does not require us to respond physically (fight or flee)–we actually need to calm our physiological responses so we can think clearly and problem solve our way out of stressful situations.  And we need to avoid the negative physical consequences of a chronic “fight or flight” response–high blood pressure, disrupted sleep, and impaired digestive functioning, just to name a few.

Your Daily Shoring assignment for today is to work on a healthy response to stress!  Make a conscious effort to use these coping strategies:

  • Exercise!  Can’t emphasize this one enough!  Exercise is a proven stress reliever, and being physically fit has a mitigating effect on the negative consequences of the “fight or flight” response.
  • Incorporate a “daily reset“–a time each day that you completely relax, both mentally and physically.  Think of stress and anxiety as having a “kindling effect.”  If  you do not totally reset your mental and physical stress, it’s the equivalent of leaving embers in the fireplace–it takes only a small amount of kindling to start a blaze.  A daily reset douses the embers, thereby making you more resilient to the next day’s stress–you won’t experience an immediate spike (blaze) when stress (the kindling) comes your way.  Need help?  Check out the free Guided Meditations at the UCLA Mindfulness Center!  The shortest are only 3 minutes long and you can listen online or download to iTunes.

Identify your “daily reset” and designate a time in your day for your reset.  Even three minutes of deep breathing each day can make a huge difference!

Can you make the daily reset a part of your regular routine?  Maybe add it to your morning ritual or bedtime ritual?

What’s your daily reset?