We all know January is the “time to chill” in Rochester. But in this post, we’re going to discuss chilling as a means of reducing stress, tension, anxiety and negativity in your life. To that end, here are some key facts about stress:
- Your body can’t discriminate between a BIG stress or a little one. Whether it’s a traffic jam or a computer virus, the stress reaction triggers a cascade of 1,400 biochemical events in your body, taking over a critical part of our brain. Which brings us to…
- Stress can make smart people do stupid things: clouding our thinking, draining our energy, undercutting our productivity, and even aging us prematurely if left unchecked. We’ve all “lost it” in a stressful situation, likely surprising even ourselves. That’s because stress causes what researchers call “cortical inhibition,” bottle-necking our brain function. And the shallow breathing of stress raises heart rate and blood pressure, even changing blood chemistry in a way that makes your platelets stickier. Sadly, that increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. No wonder there’s an expression about taking “a chill pill”!
- People can become numb to stress. If we’re exposed to anything long enough, we become acclimated to it. Sometimes the daily pressures and irritations of life begin to seem like “the new normal” and cease to faze us. But we may not realize how much they’re undermining our mental, emotional, and physical health until it manifests as a rash decision, an impulsive outburst, or even an unwanted medical diagnosis.
- We are fully in control of how we react to stress! We can rewire our stress response to override it with calm, cool and collected “coherence” — bringing the brain, heart and nervous system in harmony, and fostering peak performance.
- Handling stress in the moment is the best strategy. Millions of us use the “binge and purge” approach to stress: letting it build up all day, burying it inside, and waiting for an evening yoga class or the weekend. This doesn’t work — the stress response has already activated.
How to stop the stress response in its tracks? It’s different for everyone; but we’d recommend a combination of deep breathing and positive emotion, perhaps grounded in gratitude for the joyful things in our lives. One exercise to elicit positive emotion is to place your hand on your heart, visualize your breath moving in and out through your heart, and thinking of a person or place that brings you joy. You can use this practice before you fall asleep, when you wake up in the middle of the night, to prepare for an important communication (from a meeting to a mingle), and to recoup or recover from a stressful situation. It may not be a treadmill or StairMaster, but it’s still a healthy dose of cardio! Studies show it leads to improved relationships, improved sleep, improved performance at work and at play, and a greater sense of balance and ease.
As Florence Nightingale said: “Health is not only to be well but to use well all the powers that you have.”