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How to Recognize & Manage "The Stress Response"

The Scenario:

You have been working overtime hours on a project this past week, you've had an argument with a loved one, and you're not sleeping great. You have a hard time even recognizing that you are in survival "doing mode", so don't know how to shut it off.

When you finally take a moment to relax- you experience extreme fatigue. Maybe some digestive issues too. You are short-fused with no patience, and even the smallest noise stimulates you.

Allow me to explain what is happening so that you can learn how to recognize and control situations like this.

"Doing mode" is how most of American society lives. We are production driven and are constantly burning the candle at both ends to get ahead. Even when it's time to take a break and sit still, we don't know how. Yet anxiety and stress levels in our country are sky rocketing.

Our nervous system is in "doing mode" overdrive and we don't know how to shut it off.

Our nervous system has two sides: doing and being.

1) The Sympathetic Nervous System= The doing

This is our survival mode stress response. To survive in nature our adrenaline and cortisol levels spike so we can become hyper focused and energized. When we are in this mode our body thinks we are being chased by a bear. Instead, we are actually activating it when we are over-working, exercising, experiencing trauma or danger, rushing to get places, or in any stressful relationship or moment.

2) The Parasympathetic System= The being.

This is our "rest & digest" mode. In this mode our body heals itself and regenerates cells. It lowers our blood pressure and improves all functionality in our body. It activates when we are relaxed, sleeping, meditating, or enjoying things we love like cooking, painting, or spending time with friends.

Becoming Unbalanced:

Both these sides of the nervous system are are essential, yet most of of us are living out of balance. Most of us are in the sympathetic "stress response" doing mode for the entire day.

For one day in stress response "doing mode", the body can probably work to recover itself. But after a full week, you will probably begin to feel the effects. And we usually only feel them once we have finally relaxed. Our cortisol has been so high for so long that when we come down, we have a hard time socializing or hearing loud noises. We are exhausted, and may even have a hard time digesting food.

Have you ever gone on vacation then immediately gotten sick? Or woken up sick in the middle of the night? You're body is finally relaxed it says "great now I can work to heal and battle the inflammation in your body that I couldn't when you were in stress response doing mode."

Believe it or not sick symptoms are actually signs of your immune system getting to work because your nervous system has relaxed. It's all connected.

So how do we find balance, stay relaxed, and avoid future scenarios like this to keep ourselves on track and healthy?

How to Recognize & Manage it:

  1. Start paying attention to when you are in stress response "doing mode". Start asking yourself throughout the day- what mode am I in right now?

  2. Check in with your shoulders. Are they tensed up to your ears right now?

  3. Take a FULL deep breath in that fills your belly like a balloon and expands your ribs.

  4. When you exhale, draw and relax your shoulders away from your ears and down your back. Yes this is yoga :)

Keep pausing and checking in all day. By taking a full breath and relaxing your shoulders you can continue to remind your body that you are in fact not being chased by that bear and your body can continue to function at it's full healing capacity.

Also make sure to prioritize relaxation time throughout the day- whatever that looks like for you.

Relaxation should be a priority.

Maybe you can start to recognize what situations or people are putting you in different modes. By taking the time to go into "being mode" and activating the parasympathetic nervous system not only will your body thank you, but you will be a better worker, mother, father, friend, and person for it.

Our society likes to make us feel guilty for relaxing into "being mode", when it is one of the most essential parts of our health. It's time to change that.


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