Stress. What does this word mean to you? We tend to see stress as a bad thing. The language society uses about stress is typically negative. For example, we hear how “stress kills” and everyone is so “stressed out!” While these are both true, stress is not necessarily good or bad. Stress is a stimulus and we can use it to adapt and grow.
When we experience stress, a host of physiological responses happen in our body. Our heart, respiration and sweat rates increase, stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are pushed into our system, blood is pumped to our extremities, our digestion slows and our desire for sex decreases. These are the same responses that occurred when we ran from the lions in pre-historic times and allowed us to survive. Where these responses become a problem is when they never shut off and become chronic. We evolved to have short intense bouts of stress followed by the majority of time in a calm, relaxed state.
In order to use stress to grow, we need to reframe our mindset around stress and give ourselves periods of recovery. The benefits from workouts come in the recovery phase. We tend to assimilate information in our sleep. It is in times of stillness when our brains are able to unlock the answers to the questions we’ve been diligently working on. How do we get into these restful states? For one, we must reframe stress as necessary for growth. Without it, we will become stagnant and our brains and muscles will begin to atrophy. We must also learn tools to bring us out of a stressed state. Tools that give us that “space between stimulus and response.” This is where techniques like breathwork and heat and ice exposure come in.
Slowing your breath down with diaphragmatic breaths calms the mind and body. Receptors in our brain are constantly spying on our breath rate and as it slows everything else begins to slow. While this can be easy when there are no stressors acting upon us, we must put ourselves in difficult situations on the other side of our comfort zone to learn how to handle this in real-time. The ice is the perfect setting. It sends us into fight or flight, our breath rate rapidly increases and our mind says run! As you calm your breath your mind begins to slow. You can add in mantras like “easy day” or “let go” to help calm the mind. In a matter of seconds, everything relaxes and you just might begin to enjoy it!
You then learn how your body responds in stressful situations and you now have the tools to stay calm and alert instead of emotional and reactive. When you begin to stress over the presentation or maybe you get into a fight with your partner, instead of going off the deep end, you have tools you can come back to settle yourself. The trick is, these take practice. Just as you can’t go to the gym once and stay fit, you can’t practice breath and mindset training once and think you will be able to use it when the bullets start flying. Now is the time to dedicate yourself to a practice and figure out how you respond. We all have the ability to better manage our stress but it is up to each of us to make the choice. If you need guidance on how to start, send me an email. I’m here to help.