2 tips to soothe stress
I absolutely love what we do as a company. Nothing brings more joy and satisfaction than to hear successful stories of people who’ve been able to turn their lives around and enjoy better health. While it’s great to hear about people who’ve reversed their diabetes, lost weight or seen their body heal from other ailments, the most satisfying thing to hear is when people are genuinely happier. As great as a blessing as it is to recover from, heal or reverse chronic disease, those manifestations of the body are not enough to bring happiness. They can bring excitement, emotion and can definitely alleviate burdens, but unless we accompany physical successes with a change in how we manage the daily or weekly vicissitudes that life brings there is no long lasting happiness – there is only emotion.
Emotions are a necessary, important and healthy part of life. Emotion is also temporary. When I think of emotions I think of science class and how I was taught the difference between a solid, liquid and gas. Out of the three, emotions are like gas. Gases have the ability to fill up an area quickly, such as how gas can fill up a balloon. Depending on the kind of gas it fills it up with, the balloon will either float up (such as the case with hydrogen) or will stay ground bound (such as is the case with oxygen). While newly inflated balloons are fun decoration to have around the house during celebrations and birthday parties, it doesn’t take very long for them to pop or simply deflate on their own. Usually within a week or two balloons are nothing more than shriveled versions of what they were and no longer serve a purpose.
The shelf life of emotions is similar to that of balloons. Many of us know people or have even personally experienced the excitement from life changing events such as graduating from school, getting a new job, getting married or having a child. In those moments everything feels perfect and surreal. We feel a desire to do our best and even often times have a desire to help others. Why then, does it feel like these good feelings and emotions go away so quickly? How is it that a positive attitude can be so easily replaced by negative feelings and emotions?
Perhaps one, if not the most important aspects and purposes of the human experience is learning and growth. Every day we have opportunities presented before that force us out of our comfort zone. These opportunities often come in the form of stressful episodes and experiences. It’s important to remember that the stress mechanism is often activated whenever we come across a situation that is new or that is in our way of accomplishing what we would like to. When you stop and think about it, you realize that stress is a common part of our life. Stress is advantageous when we use it to help us figure out solutions. When managed correctly we can be extremely creative in our approach to problem solving.
Unfortunately, too often we go about our lives allowing the strong emotions that stress provokes to guide our thinking and decision making. Emotions such as fear, resentment, feelings of victimization, anger, an inability to forgive and other feelings can cloud our logic, reason, good judgment and truth. These same emotions are the ones that can stomp out the “good feelings” and fill us with the perceived need to only think of ourselves.
From a neurological perspective, this happens because of how our brain and all of its regions are formed. Any thought that we have is always stored in the neurons in the brain. We of course gather our thoughts through observing and experiencing the world around us. Any time we have a thought that has any level of anxiety or stress attached to it, the neurons in the brain are placed on high alert. The extent to how many neurons are activated, depends on the level of stress we feel. During this time the brain is searching through all of its networks and libraries of stored information to try and find a solution to the problem. Emotions are also provoked through the limbic section of the brain. How we decide to act at this juncture is the defining moment that highlights how we live our lives. Will it be based on fear or anger? Or will we seek further light and truth that allow us to grow and gain wisdom?
Our brains are always trying to provide us with truth and reason to help guide us through hardships – whether those hardships are as large as losing employment or as simple as getting into a disagreement with our spouse. All of the logic and reason we need is housed in the frontal cortex of the brain. The frontal cortex is a section of the brain that stores all of our permanent memory. Interestingly enough, the only items that it saves are concepts, facts and truths that the brain sees as necessary and important. Negative thinking or strong emotions are never saved in the frontal cortex – those remain in other neurons located in other parts of the brain. All of the important information that the frontal cortex wants to bring to the surface is unable to reach our conscious if neurons are constantly firing off. This is why it is impossible to be rational and logical when negative emotions run high. In those moments we can only process the stress and the fears that come from whatever is before us. Over time, if those feelings of stress are not reconciled, chronic stress develops.
Chronic stress is extremely detrimental to the brain – and consequently the rest of the body. Remember that it is through the brain that cells communicate information such as damage, reparation and other important activities that need to take place in order to maintain health. The brain is then able to send messages through hormones and neurotransmitters to initiate things such as digestion, immune responses, detoxification, sleep and a host of other functions.
Apart from the physical consequences, mentally chronic stress is the mechanism whereby people make a mountain out of a molehill. That’s because neurons are always making associations with other memories or thoughts. When those neurons become hyperactive, as is the case when we go through stress, people’s minds run rampant tying negative thought to negative thought. And, as we’ve mentioned, all this activity denies the frontal cortex the ability to bring truth to the forefront of our mind. If chronic stress continues, our brain circuitry is drastically affected, causing us to accumulate more stress and leading us to further sickness.
So what can be done? Are we destined to always be a stressful mess? The answer is absolutely not. Our brains can and will heal themselves if we have the desire to do so. All brain circuitry can be rewired. In fact, even when we’re in the midst of destructive thinking, our brains are constantly looking for ways and windows of opportunity where they can provide us with impression and thoughts on how to dig ourselves out of negative perceptions and thoughts. I wanted to share a couple impressions that I’ve had in my life that I’ve gone to whenever I feel like my world is going to come down. Each of these have helped me out tremendously in putting things back into perspective, bringing down stress and restoring balance back into my life.
The first tip comes from a quote I heard once. “When the time for decision arrives, the time for preparation has past.” Several years ago I remember doing some introspective thinking and deciding that I didn’t want to be so quick to get upset and that I wanted to be quick to forgive others. I’ve never been the type to yell, but inside I would get upset with others at times. I thought about this quote and decided that I would make the decision not to get upset. A couple weeks past and I was working with a colleague on a project and he had assured me that his portion of the project was all taken care of. When it came time for the presentation, he confessed that he had only completed 50% of the work assigned. Instantly I became upset and I thought how stupid can this person possibly be? Why hadn’t he told me that he was having problems working on his portion of the work assignment? We could have worked together to get it done! In that moment, in the middle of all those thoughts I remembered my decision to not be so quick to anger and promptly forgive. In that moment all of the feelings of anger that I had began to melt away. Instead of wasting my time and energy on pointing the finger of blame, I decided to talk through the situation with my colleague. At the end of the day, the presentation turned out just fine – all because of the decision made before the situation even arose.
The second tip is to serve others. This probably is the most difficult thing to do when tough times arise, but there’s a calming effect that comes from providing genuine service. I’m not talking about service to get any sort of recognition or to prove to somebody that you actually care. I’m talking about the kind of service that comes from the heart. Heartfelt service means giving others attention, showing affections and recognizing the strengths and talents of others. The home and family is a great place to start. If you live isolated or have no family, finding a way to serve your friends, neighbors or communities is great as well. While we may not understand completely the science behind service, there’s no doubt that helping others releases important chemicals such as dopamine – which alleviates stress levels and restores mental health and balance. In order for this to be effective you have to follow the first tip – you have to decide beforehand that serving and helping others is part of your lifestyle. It doesn’t have to be anything large – sometimes the simplest smallest acts of kindness go a very long way in helping others feel better, while at the same time relieving us from the strong emotions that stress brings.
Remember that one of the largest catalysts for feeling stress or anxiety isn’t so much the experience or event, but rather it’s the possibility of how we may be perceived by others. Nobody likes looking inexperienced, uneducated, etc. Many times however, these perceptions are skewed because in reality, nobody is actually that critical of us. The ability to move beyond what others think and allow ourselves to simply be ourselves is pivotal in reducing stress and living a life full of positive emotions and maintain a healthy lifestyle.