Meet Boo. Boo is a simple, yet courageous caveman. His hobbies are hunting with friends, riding baby mammoths, starting fires, and getting knocked over the head. Boo doesn’t worry too much, as there’s really not that much to worry about. Unless of course mamma mammoth finds out he’s been riding on her baby, or hunting goes wrong and he’s being chased by a saber-tooth tiger. As you can imagine, THESE are the moments when Boo is feeling really stressed!
His brain shifts his body from the Parasympathetic Nervous System (Rest and Digest), to the Sympathetic Nervous System ( Fight or Flight). He makes a run for it, and ends up locking himself up in a cave, not knowing when he’ll leave again, or get his next meal. His brain knows that not only will Boo not be eating anytime soon, he’ll also need to preserve energy to be able to run back to his own cave, once the coast is clear.
You’re probably still wondering what you have to do with Boo, who died a long long time ago… Although some say we’ve evolved a lot since the stone age, our brain still functions the same exact way. When we’re stressed, although there are no saber-tooth tigers anywhere to be seen, our brain still commands our parasympathetic system to move aside and clear the way. All digestion halts, energy is being preserved as fat cells, stomach acidity lowers, and oxygen in the blood is sent away from the digestive system towards our brain and muscles.
Your stress today is more common and more frequent than Boo experienced during his entire life! Did you know that the leading reason for doctors visits (60-80%!) are stress related? Did you also know that only 3% of these patients will actually receive stress management help? We live in a world where we can’t avoid stress. In fact, a certain amount of stress is actually healthy for our wellbeing, and keeps us on our toes. Some of us work better under pressure (hello procrastinators), while others try hard to avoid it (and end up stressing anyways).
So what is stress? Any type of physical, mental or emotional factor that causes tension in the body, leading to physical, chemical, and/or behavioural changes. No joke. Continuous release of stress hormones can cause a list of problems. But instead of naming them, I want to give you a few tools to manage your stress better.
How to be a stress whisperer pro
Spoiler alert: I did not invent the wheel here (unlike Boo). But I did find a golden path combining simple steps anyone can take.
First step: The 5 second rule – Credit Mel Robbins
No, we’re not talking about picking food off the floor. This rule works on the premise that you know what to do, but you can’t seem to make yourself do it. You simply need to outsmart your own brain. The moment you count from 5 to 1, you are interrupting habit loops, happening in the basal ganglia, and move your brain activity to the prefrontal cortex – which is responsible for, amongst other things, decision making.
So imagine you’re feeling stressed, it’s starting in the belly, and crawls up towards your chest. You know that feeling too well. For a split second there’s a tiny voice inside you (that same voice which always knows what to do, and we often ignore, kind of like your mom). This is when you count down – 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Your thinking moved to the prefrontal cortex. Now what?
Second step: Breathing – Credit to God
It sounds mediocre, and yet breathing is highly underrated. Breathing influences physiology and thought processes, including moods. By simply focusing your attention on your breathing, you can bring yourself to a more relaxed state. And hey, you’re already doing it anyways – right? So why not do it with just a bit more… love and attention 🙂
So we’ve just counted from five to one (which took us a whole of 5 seconds), and now we need to take three deep, slow breaths. This should take around 15 more seconds. Now let’s imagine that you’ve given those 20 seconds all you’ve got, and yet you’re still feeling that ball of stress in your belly. What now?
Third step: Grounding – Credit also to God (due to lack of another source)
Right now you’re still feeling stressed because you’re simply stuck in your own head. You’re still looping your worries and concerns, not being able to detach. Fact is, these worries are not tangible. They are not real. They are all in your head!
Grounding is an exercise that gets you out of your head, back in the moment. Look around you and start naming objects. We don’t want a description of them (“ugly chair), no emotions! If you can get up and touch these objects, do it. If you can name them out loud, even better! What if there are people around you? Well, most likely they are the source of your stress. They’ll think you’ve lost it and hopefully leave the room 🙂
Can you dedicate 1 minute for these 3 quick steps, move away from stress, and back to digest? Yes: Eating healthy is SUPER important. But if you stress, you don’t digest! So do yourself a favour and take your health back into your hands!
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