The stress response is part of the human experience and in place to protect us from real or perceived threats to us as individuals and as a species.
Newborn babies have undeveloped central nervous systems and have not learned the tools to calm themselves when stressed. Adults, however, often do have the tools but sometimes do not tap into them or they weren’t adequately learned as children. As such, if we were given food or sweets as a way to combat boredom, stress, tears and boo-boos, this is what we’ll continue to rely on time and again —because it worked so incredibly well! That information got stored deep in our brains in the basal ganglia and remained there as a blueprint that we can access and remember instantly when we are stressed again.
The good news is that we create new behaviors, new habits and even new neural pathways that with enough practice, patience and perseverance can set us on a new path of self-soothing and stress relief in ways that honor our bodies and the path of wellness we want to be on.
Go outside –When my daughter was an infant, I had a lactation consultant / baby whisperer come help me with my colicky baby who wouldn’t stop crying no matter what I tried. She took me and my baby outside into the fresh air and instantly my daughter calmed down. The hit of fresh air on my skin brought me a bit out of my stress stupor as well. It was remarkable. Sometimes we need a shift in energy and environment to calm ourselves down, gain some perspective and give our prefrontal cortex to catch up with our reptilian brains that are ready to jump in and do what it always does on impulse. Just go outside.
Pull out your journal – take 10 minutes to write down what is happening for you right now and why you are stressed. Sometimes we are not even aware of what is bothering us. Sometimes we know but feel stymied about how to handle the myriad emotions that follow. Sometimes we are so caught up in the physical sensations of that stress-response that we lose track of all perspective on anything else going on that perhaps triggered this response. Write it all down. Allow the catharsis of depositing that energy onto paper to rid itself from your mind, even temporarily. Then assess. Maybe there is an immediate to-do that becomes clear. Maybe, it will trigger you to keep writing. Maybe the time writing will be enough of a buffer to tune in to other choices you could make instead of eating if it’s not hunger related.
Try meditation 101. – Maybe you already have a breathing and meditation practice in place and if so, this is the time to have a sitting session. If not, try one of these amazing, inexpensive and accessible meditation apps and platforms to take 10 minutes to sit with the uncomfortable feelings, observe the thought bubbles and breathe through the comfort to soothe. (Headspace, Calm, or my 13 meditation bundle)
Release the energy – trapped feelings, stress and negative energy shows up in our cells and lives on in our bodies rearing its head as migraines, GI problems, back pain, sleep disturbances and more. Find a way to release that energy, as it skulks, to bring it up and out rather than down and in. Strategies to do this: Walking, Yoga, burst of running or HIIT training, sex and orgasm, dancing, voice work (OM’s, singing, mantras grunting, yelling etc), you get the point. Or try energy work like acupuncture, reiki and Qigong as part of your self-care regimen
Connectedness – As a incredibly social species we look to others to help us, guide us and yes calm us down or keep us accountable. When we are stressed, however, this is when we are LEAST likely to reach out to someone for help because evolutionarily speaking we were meant to run away, freeze or fight – not exactly the most sociable activities to do with someone else right? (unless you’re doing a mannequin challenge) But, with a low level stress response we can do some breath work to alert our amygdala (our smoke detector to stress or crisis) that all is ok. Then we can work on that connectedness piece whether it’s calling a trusted friend, your Mom or even a clergy member for support. If you work with a coach, like me, this would be a good time to text him or her for an SOS! To get started with a relationship like that, just click here!
Remember, we are allowed to make different choice than the ones we have always made in the past, even if it feels like strong forces guide us to repetition. It often takes a great deal of awareness and patience plus the fortitude to have compassion and perseverance when the road is bumpy and circuitous or doesn’t go your way the first few times you try it. But with practice behavioral change is possible and empowering.