sTre$s! part 2

This is a mini-series on stress – how our amazing bodies can rise to meet a challenge and how we can manage stress so that we don’t die from it!

As I mentioned in Part 1, our stress response consists of 3 phases: the alarm, the activating system and recovery. I recently read The Hidden Link between Adrenaline and Stress by Dr. Archibald Hart (Thomas Nelson 1995). He describes the amazing ways we are hard-wired to mobilize to meet a challenge. Every system of the body does its part. However, if we live in a constant state of stress, we will suffer the physical consequences (also described briefly in my first article). I’ll share with you some of the most important insights I gleaned from the book.

“To protect yourself against dying of or suffering ill effects from stress, you must learn how to switch off your production of adrenaline when it is no longer needed, and stop using it for non-emergency life situations (like driving on the freeway)!” (Hart, p. 28)

“Nothing worthwhile can be accomplished without some arousal of the stress response system. It is a biological law that we must work, and even fight, to accomplish a worthwhile goal. Challenge and fulfillment are important to health and well being. The lack of it causes us to atrophy in body and mind. But –  and this point is crucial to my whole argument – challenge and stress must be accompanied by, and work in harmony with, relaxation and rest.” (Hart, p. 42)

“We cannot avoid all arousal, all the time, nor should we even try…What should we do in times like these? It is crucial to plan adequate time for recovery. Sooner or later the crisis will be over, and that is when you must make time for adequate recuperation of your adrenaline system. It is simply a matter of responsible self-management.” (Hart, p. 136)

“The primary and most successful method of adrenaline reduction is conscious physical relaxation. When you relax the body, the mind can’t keep itself in a state of emergency. A relaxed body begins to relax the mind.” (Hart, p. 134)

So, let’s get personal. Here’s what I am doing with the information I read.

  1. I’m getting more sleep! Dr. Hart has a whole chapter on the importance of sleep. One of my new (school) year resolutions is to be in bed by 10:30 pm. This regularity helps me tremendously in the morning. I am a lot less grouchy! Most people I know, especially parents, could use more sleep.
  2. I’m noticing when my stress level is elevated and deciding whether I need the extra adrenaline or not. This consciousness is amazing. I never would have thought that noticing and deciding could be so powerful. I’ve found I really can turn off the adrenaline if I decide I don’t need it. If I need energy to face a challenge, yes I’ll take the adrenaline. If I need more creativity, I’ll do better without the influx of adrenaline.
  3. I’m making time for recovery, unapologetically. I will not pack the schedule too full and perpetuate the chicken-with-her-head-cut-off mode of operation. It’s just not enjoyable.
  4. I’m planning physical relaxation into my schedule. I know, I know, I’m always talking about massage (wink). For me and for many of my clients, massage helps us remember we’re human. What Dr. Hart described on page 134 rings true (see above). And, massage is one way to help flush out the chemical toxins in our bodies produced by the adrenaline response.
  5. I’m appreciating the body. I’m happy to celebrate that my body is designed to rise to incredible challenges and I’m confident it will amaze me when I need it to.

Stay tuned for the third part of this series where Dr. Angel Duncan will teach you a relaxation exercise you can use to increase your physical well being and decrease your stress. I’m also trying to line up an interview with a sleep consultant for you.

Inspired by anything? Want to share a resolution you have? Please use the comments below!

P.S. Somehow I published a draft of part 1 instead of my final version. Wander back to re-read part 1. You’ll see some of the information re-worked.

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sTe$s!? part 1

I recently read a great book about stress. How cheerful, you might say. Well, I did it for you, my dear reader. I did, in fact, begin my reading with altruistic motives, wishing to share with you the way stress affects the body and teach you how to manage stress to minimize its negative impact in your life.

Little did I know how much I needed the info myself!

Life is sneaky that way, isn’t it? Here I stand, at this beginning of the school year, full of hope and healthy resolutions. The book I read is called The Hidden Link Between Adrenaline and Stress, by Dr. Archibald Hart (Thomas Nelson, 1995). Although it’s not the most recent book on stress, it’s an easy-to-read, inspiring book nonetheless. I’ll share some highlights with you in three parts. In Part 1 I’ll describe the most important insights I gleaned about how our bodies mobilize to meet a challenge. In Part 2 I’ll describe healthy ways to manage stress. Part 3 is a guest post by one of my clients, Dr. Angel Duncan, who will share a relaxation exercise with you.

  • The stress response: The amazing human body is hard-wired with the ability to respond to threats with a complex and efficient system of mobilization. You’ve heard of “fight or flight” I’m sure. Behind this catchy phrase is a whole host of chemical reactions that occur when we are faced with a major challenge:
    • Your eyes dilate, the rate and force of your heart’s contractions increase, and your blood vessels constrict, so your blood pressure rises. Blood is borrowed from the intestinal reservoir and shunted to your major muscles, lungs, heart, and brain, preparing you for battle. Bowel and bladder function shut down temporarily, conserving energy needed to power your muscles, whether you choose to stay and fight or run away. (This efficient summary is from The Wisdom of Menopause by Christiane Northrup, M.D., Bantam Books 2003 p.59.)
    • Here’s a family example: one time my older brother was working on his motorcycle in the garage. It suddenly caught on fire. My brother lifted the motorcycle up and threw it 10 feet out of the garage where he was able to put out the fire safely. This response demonstrated quick decision-making & abnormal strength, 2 hallmarks of an adrenaline response.
  • This system kicks in whether the challenge we face is life-threatening or simply our morning commute! To face our daily challenges, we really don’t need all that, especially the increased blood pressure, wouldn’t you agree?! Dr. Hart describes our activation this way:

“We are mobilized to act. We become physically stronger (which can be dangerous if we are angry) and mentally sharper. Notice I said ‘sharper,’ not ‘more creative or innovative.’” (Hart, p. 66)

I don’t know about you, but most of my challenges could use a greater measure of creativity and less blood pressure. I don’t particularly gain anything when I yell at my kid to hurry up and fall asleep already!

  • The stress response has 3 important steps: alarm, activation, and RECOVERY. In our culture, this third step is often overlooked. I’ll discuss the importance of recovery in Part 2.
  • Humans are incredibly ADAPTABLE. For example, our eyes can adapt from bright outdoor sunshine to dim indoor lighting within a minute or two. Unfortunately, we can also adapt to conditions we shouldn’t adapt to, like high levels of stress. Our adrenaline response has some great short-term features, like a decreased sensation of pain for example. This serves the purpose of helping us continue with a challenge even when we are injured. Imagine the need to carry your child down a mountain after some catastrophe, perhaps a task that would be physically impossible for you unless you knew you were in a life-threatening emergency.
  • The long-term effects of adrenaline on the body are ultimately destructive. Here are a few examples: higher blood pressure, depleted endorphins and therefore an increased sensation of pain, quicker (and less discriminating) activation of a stress response, depletion of the brain’s natural tranquilizers and therefore increased anxiety. The list goes on, but you can see it’s a picture of diminishing returns.

As I said, refreshing my knowledge of how the body acts under stress has been great for me personally. The summer was in some ways a little more relaxed, but also a little stressful trying to balance work and family time. I was looking forward to the school year beginning in a grass-is-greener kind of way. Then I remembered that there’s a lot of hustling hither and thither with the kiddo, part of life I find stress-inducing. Learning to monitor and manage my stress response, which I’ll share with you in the next post, was a great way for me to start the school year. Stay tuned!

And, please, if you have any great stories about how your adrenaline helped you in a real crisis or hindered you in a daily challenge, please share with everyone in the comments below.

the modern vacation

Times have changed, haven’t they?

I recently took a vacation with my little family. No two vacations are the same and this was a combination of fun, low-key family time and stay-cation, but at my brother’s house. My kid and his kid were in a morning day-camp program Monday through Friday. The morning camp gave the grown-ups time to get some things done. So in a sense, it was a combination of vacation in the afternoons and evenings with mild work expectations for the morning hours. Of course, I can’t really “work” in terms of doing actual massage unless I’m in town, but there are other aspects of being a business-owner that clamor for attention too. Things like writing blog posts about interesting stuff, reviewing my marketing plan, and organizing paperwork.

I’ll be posting a few things about stress in the coming weeks that I hope you’ll find informative and insightful. So….confession time….I brought a book about stress on my vacation. I was just planning to do some research. I’m not so geeky that I enjoy reading about stress. Well, maybe I am. Anyway, I lost the book about stress during my vacation. I had borrowed the book, so I was feeling rather frantic as I packed and unpacked trying to find it. I certainly didn’t want to purchase a book about stress to replace the one I lost on my vacation. You see my pickle don’t you?

I did find the book eventually and all was smooth sailing from there, but I could not escape the hilarity in the symbolism of this little mishap. The other thing I couldn’t help but notice on this vacation is that, as modern adults, we are really used to being plugged in. My family brought our laptop with us so that a) my husband could grade “papers” that his students had turned in on-line; b) I could work on my blog; and c) my son coud pay his favorite lullaby CD at nighttime.

Technology propels us forward. It’s difficult to go backwards or set our technology aside. We get so used to having access to information via the web and being able to make a call from the beach or the park, even when we’re on vacation. It’s not entirely bad. I had time to catch up with my mom for an hour on the phone during this vacation. That was a real treat. But it is healthy to realize every once in a while how plugged in we are, how instant our society expects us to be, and how we CAN set technology aside.

The thing I’m most proud of was that I put an outgoing message on my cell phone just letting clients know that I was out of town and when I would return their calls. I didn’t answer the phone when it rang all week and only returned calls that involved work scheduled for the weekend. That was my biggest break to myself and my family. And, of course, that’s the beauty of a small business – the world does not stop when we check out for a week.

So, the last morning of the vacation I had scheduled a pedicure and a massage. Sounds so decadent, doesn’t it? Pedicures are a tax-deductible business expense for me now because I use my clean, smooth feet to massage people. Trust me, you want me to get pedicures regularly! And getting a massage is good self-care. It keeps me honest.

I had found a neat little place for my massage the day before, stopped in and took a tour. When I returned the following day for my appointment, I asked if I had perhaps left my misplaced book there. “What is the book called?” the helpful proprietor asked me. When I told her, she just looked at me incredulously. “A book about stress? You must need a massage!”

Do you have any funny stories from this summer’s vacation? Perhaps you found it hard to set aside your technology. Share your thoughts in the comments beow.