This last month I have really had to remind myself to practice what I preach. A few very stressful situations came up and self care was not the first thing that came to mind, until I realised the situation was making me feel pretty stressed and unwell.

Luckily I was able to use my resources and instead of fixating on the issue, I was able to intentionally interrupt the stress response by shifting my attention away from it and instead onto the heart.

If you have experienced what it’s like for your body to be in a state of constant fight or flight that led to exhaustion, you will know what I am talking about.

The human nervous system, the autonomic nervous system, is composed of two main branches, the sympathetic branch and the parasympathetic branch.

The parasympathetic branch is also known as “rest and digest”, and it helps to slow down heart rate, to lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation and increase circulation and importantly it helps to aid digestion. All of this takes place when we are relaxed.

On the other hand, when we are stressed, the sympathetic branch, or “fight or flight” branch takes over and runs the show. It increases heart rate and blood pressure, it decreases circulation and it reduces digestion.

We put our body through stresses or stressors on a daily basis and we can’t avoid many of them, as stressors can come from work or personal life situations, sitting in a traffic jam but also from parasites, mould and toxins which all create inflammation and therefore a stress on the body. These things can all throw the nervous system off balance leading to symptoms such as poor gut health, brain fog, anxiety and exhaustion.

The term stress is huge, one thing that may cause one person to feel hugely stressed, overwhelmed and miserable, can actually be really exciting, exhilarating and fun for others.

Whatever the stressor, the management of stress is really important.

When it comes to managing stress, we have a very primal system and when that system was evolved, the kind of stress we would have experienced would have required us to be physically active.

In primal, cave dwelling days, we would have been good fighters and good runners – we needed to be able to run away from threat and from predators and so a stressful environment meant we had to do something physical in order to protect ourselves, or to hunt down our food and to run away from danger. Where as today, much of our response does not require us to be physical but the stress response hasn’t changed. We have the same bodies response, but very different types of stressors.

It’s not bad to be stressed at times, for example, short bursts of stress, or hormetic stress, drives strength. Exercise is a good example of this; if you exercise and work the body hard in a short period of time, it can be stressful on the body in the short term, but in the long term you get stronger and healthier. But, if you were just to keep on exercising, obviously you’d wear the body out. We are designed for short sharp bursts of stress, which can be very regulating and invigorating for the body. It’s the continuous stress that wears us out.

There is a great book called “ Why Zebras don’t Get Ulcers” by Robert Sapolsky

He describes, how a zebra, for most of its life is having a nice time, eating grass, with other zebras all around. In this relaxed mode ”rest and digest”, it’s able to digest all the food it eats. However, when a predator comes into its midst, all the zebras start running and panicking, running away from the threat. So their hearts will be beating fast, eyes are wide open and they certainly can’t digest their food any more, as they are now in “fight or flight” mode. Then as soon as some other poor zebras been caught, what do they do? They immediately get back to eating grass the moment of panic is over and they switch back to the parasympathetic branch.

So zebras personify that the majority of our lifestyle we should be calm, relaxed and in rest and digestion mode, and then every now and again, when we have a big burst of stress, it helps to get us out of trouble but resilience is how quickly we can calm down again.

I have started using my Inner Balance app again daily and what I able to monitor is how quickly I can reach a state of coherence and maintain it using heart focused breathing in order to redirect the brain’s attention to do something else other than to focus on the current stressor.

Meaning, instead of fixating on the issue or problem we’re experiencing, we are intentionally interrupting the stress response by shifting our attention away from it, and instead onto the heart. Shifting our awareness and attention to our heart, we are able to quieten the monkey-mind.

Join me on 26th June at 6.30pm for 30 minutes of Heartfelt Meditation

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