The way our bodies react to stress is actually supposed to be good for us! I know, at first it seems like a weird statement, but it is true! You see in the grand scheme, in our grand design if you will, we react to stress as if it is a life or death situation.... think about that for a moment.... Originally, stress was life threatening! For example...
You’re walking through a jungle, and a tiger jumps out into view "THAT my friends..is STRESS" and all kinds of things start to happen in our bodies.
The stress response begins in the brain, and triggers 'the Fight or Flight" syndrome. Now I'm sure most of you have head that term before, but if not, it's the body preparing itself to either 'Fight' and defend itself from said stress, or prepare itself for 'Flight' and to run away from the stress it is encountering and again, remember, this reaction to stress happens because at our core, we consider stress a life or death situation.
Your body then triggers your sympathetic nervous system.... The adrenal glands respond by pumping the hormone epinephrine otherwise known as adrenaline into the bloodstream, making you stronger and quicker. The heart begins to beat faster than normal, pushing blood into the muscles preparing them for maximum exertion, other vital organs that can store blood do so, in case you're wounded, you would bleed less. You begin to breathe more rapidly. Smaller airways in the lungs open wide allowing the lungs to take in as much oxygen as possible with each breath. This extra oxygen is sent to the brain, increasing alertness. Your sight, hearing, and other senses become sharper. Meanwhile, epinephrine and
Cortisol trigger the release of blood sugar (glucose) and fats from temporary storage sites in the body which flood into the bloodstream, supplying more energy to all cells of the body and they also increase the availability of substances that repair tissues. It also alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system....
Digestion virtually stops, your brain is worried about staying alive, it could care less about undigested food in your stomach...
Hydrocortisone is released as an anti-inflammatory, so if you were to sprain your ankle, it may hurt but it would not swell up so you could still run on it. ...........
All this and much, much more happens .... all in an instant! from having seen the tiger in the woods headed your way.
In that same flash of an instance you have to decide which is it going to be... "Fight" or "Flight" .....let's look a few scenarios...
Case #1, you think the tiger hasn't spotted you yet and you choose "Flight".... at first, backing away slowly, trying to be silent and then when there is a little more distance between you and the tiger, you start running, you run for what seems like forever and finally all of a sudden you stop, and stay very quiet and listen..... you don't hear the tiger following and after a few minutes, you finally think you got away.... the next thing you do is “take a huge deep breath and let out a long audible sigh! and think Pheeeeuuuw,,,, that was a close one.”...the STRESS is over...! this is when your body starts to settle back down! The Para-sympathetic system kicks into gear, also known as the "rest and digest system" normalizing the body's chemicals and hormones, it is the opposite of the fight or flight response. It helps promote equilibrium in the body and allows the body to rest and repair.
Case #2, you think the tiger hasn't spotted you yet and you choose "Flight".... at first, backing away slowly, trying to be silent and then when there is a little more distance between you and the tiger, you start running, but the tiger catches you from behind and eats you....well let's face it, not the outcome we hoped for but.... the STRESS is also over...!
Case #3, you are sure the tiger sees you and as it turns and is now headed towards your way, you know you can't out run it at this point, so you brandish your weapons and the battle begins.... somehow, miraculously... you defeat the tiger with a final death blow to the chest and you both fall to the ground... you.... exhausted, the tiger.......... dead. After a moment to collect your thoughts you take a huge deep breath and let out a long audible sigh! and think Pheeeeuuuw,,,, that was a close one....and the STRESS is over....! You begin to "lick" your wounds, bandage yourself up and same as in case #1, the Para-sympathetic system kicks into gear, normalizing your body.
Case #4.You can probably guess this one.... tiger wins.. eats you and the STRESS is over... ! Point is, whichever the scenario.... there is an end to the stress!
Now the problem with our stress today is there is no end to the stress, because, getting ready for work can be stressful, running late for a meeting is stressful, being in traffic is stress.
There is no END ... it’s just one stress stacked up on another, on another! And remember the part I mentioned about digestion virtually stopping?
And another thing! It doesn't even matter if the stress is real or imagined like when in home alone the little boy goes into the basement and the furnace is trying to eat him..same internal reaction, or you think you hear footsteps behind you on a dark street.... same internal reaction, even when you turn quickly and no one is there.... too late! Fight or Flight has already kicked in!.
Now let's imagine the day of a mother of two school age children, who works at a firm, in accounting from 8am to 2pm, so she can pick her kids from school at 2:30,.....
She wakes up early in the morning has to get herself ready for work, her children ready for school, feed them breakfast, perhaps make a lunch for herself and the kids all before 7:15 when dad takes them to school (let's call that Stress A)
Then after they leave, she gets into her car where she deals with traffic and often road rage, some of her own and some from others before getting to work...normally a half hour drive (let's call that Stress B)
Then she clocks in at 8:03 because today it took over 40 minutes, she thinks, ”late again, what a day it’s been already,” which gets a look from floor manager (small Stress, not worthy of a letter) now she has X amount of work to do before she gets off at 2pm, taking time for a quick sandwich for lunch ... (let's call that Stress C)
Then it's back in the car for some more road rage to pick up her kids because this takes 30 minutes on a good day....(Stress D)
All followed by.... get home, prepare dinner, check if children do their homework Stress, Stress, Stress, Stress, Stress! These stresses continue to build up on top of each other!
So the question is, "How do we deal with stress when it actually is not life threatening and it keeps piling up on itself one stress after another after another?
I'm a L.M.T. a Licensed Massage Therapy provider, and I've been telling that tiger in the jungle story to my clients for the past 20+ years in an attempt to explain how the body reacts to stress especially these days when we are in stressful situations one after another all day long!
I was telling the story to a client one day (about 15 years ago) ....but this time, for some reason, I actually did the deep breath and the audible sigh..... I immediately felt relaxation come over me and it hit me....
The Huge Deep Breath and the letting out a long audible sigh is the signal to the body that STRESS IS OVER!
Breath in through your nose and out through your mouth making an audible SIGH
Now let's revisit a day in the life of a mother of two school age children.
She wakes up early in the morning has to get herself ready for work, after doing that, she stops for a moment and takes a deep breath and lets out a long sigh..... this closes the door on any stress she has encountered up to now and lets her para- sympathetic system start to settle her down.
She gets her children ready for school, feeds them breakfast, perhaps make a lunch for herself and the kids all before 7:15 when dad takes them to school.
Then after they leave, before she even exits the house to get in the car....... she takes a huge deep breath and lets out a long sigh....Again, the para-sympathetic nervous system kick into gear.
Then as she gets to her car she is already in a better place, physically and mentally and gets on the road where she deals with traffic, some road rage but from others now... and the trip seems smoother....now, as she parks her car....as she takes the key from the ignition she again, takes a huge deep breath and lets out a long sigh...this closes the door on any stress from the road trip and again her para- sympathetic system starts to settle her down.
Then she goes inside feeling pretty good, clocks in a few minutes early, and smiles, even though she won't get the extra minutes credit, she thinks, ‘it's going to be a good day!’ which gets a nod and a returned smile from floor manager, she has an easy time getting her work done in time with a regular lunch break before she gets off at 2pm.
And again before she leaves the building, even though it's been an easy day, she takes another huge deep breath and lets out another Long sigh....just in case!
I think by now you are starting to get the picture. By signalling to the body that all previous stress is over, your body and mind is better able to deal with other stress headed your way!
Now I must tell you I am not a doctor , I am a licensed massage therapy provider. I was an instructor of Massage Techniques and Anatomy and Physiology for 14 years and have had my own business on Fort Myers Beach for the past 20 years!
First thing to remember is, our bodies have a natural connection to relaxing when we exhale.... period. Every time you breath out .... at some level your body is going ....ahhhhhhhhh!.
So do it with me right now! ... Take a huge deep breath, hold it a second and let out a loud audible sigh.... and let it all out.....
Did you feel it?... The release... The relaxation... almost everyone of my clients do feel it the very first time I ask them to do it with me..
Add these deep breaths between the different parts of your daily routine... you will notice the difference.
If you didn’t feel it....Do it again!
Bobby Mimmo LMT