We all know we’re stressed by work, family, finances and the state of the world, but what goes on inside of our bodies when we’re stressed?
Well, our bodies haven’t evolved that much since caveman days. You’ve probably heard of the “Fight, Flight or Freeze” response. This automatic physical response poses two big problems for modern humans. First, our bodies can’t differentiate between the stress of being attacked by a sabertooth tiger or the stress of having a fight with a loved one or receiving a bill we can’t pay. We react to all stress as if it were an immediate threat to our lives. And, we can’t run away from modern stressors like we can from an attack by a wild animal, so we freeze. This means our stress response doesn’t run its full cycle, so hormones like cortisol build up over time, causing a lot of the chronic diseases we see today.
What are some techniques to help reduce stress?
The key is to recognize that stress reduction is a whole-body endeavor, and there are lots of great stress management tools. Here are three of my favorite types:
1. Physical movement allows the stress response to run its full cycle. Walking, running, biking, yoga, tai chi,etc. — all help complete the stress cycle and avoid “freeze” mode.
2. Strategies that short-circuit the stress response and send signals to our body that we’re physically safe are key. Power poses (such as standing like Wonder Woman) are a simple, three-minute technique you can employ to reduce the stress hormone cortisol. A study showed standing or sitting with your arms and legs open and away from your body reduces cortisol levels by 25%.
3. Techniques to reduce our overall stress “set point.” Meditation and mindfulness are great for this. A regular meditation or mindfulness practice calms the autonomic nervous system, so that smaller stressors don’t feel like bigger ones, and when big stressors do come along, you have more capacity to handle them.
What resources does GHC offer?
GHC’s Complementary Medicine Department offers so many options! Our massage therapists can help you work out the kinks from sitting at a computer all day, and a good massage sends signals to your autonomic nervous system that it’s OK to relax, and that you’re safe.
Our acupuncturists have protocols that address stress, and I always feel so calm and peaceful after a session. We’re now offering mind/body and somatic awareness appointments where you can get in touch with how your body responds to stress, find relief from it and learn tools for self-care between sessions.
Finally, we offer a variety of classes: Zumba, yoga, meditation and mind/body classes focused specifically on reducing stress.
Visit ghcscw.com for appointments and classes, and see our YouTube channel for videos!
— Wendy Warren Grapentine, LMT, Stress Management Practitioner, Reiki Master at Group Health Cooperative