By Andrea Renee Rivera | Certified Life and Business Coach, Yoga/Meditation Instructor, Medical Qigong Reiki Energry Work Practitioner, Masters Candidate at Yo San University of Acupuncture
We are all faced with challenges in our daily life with some days simply being harder to navigate than others. The key to success, fulfillment, health and longevity in life is how we choose to deal with and face our challenges when they come. Though many of us at times may have the completely unrealistic expectations that some day, some how we can reach a state of perfection that allows us to avoid all difficulties and pain, life challenges that we may not have expected still come. We can embrace this reality and begin to welcome the challenges in our life, trusting that we have the tools and skills to navigate through them. We can come to a deep place of trust within us of accepting the fundamental reality that we actually don’t need a perfect life that is devoid of all stresses in order to be happy and healthy. We can learn to “Dance in the Rain” despite what hard things we may be dealing with at any given time. Learning to “Dance in the Rain” is simply choosing to look at our challenges differently and consciously choosing to change our attitude, perspective, expectations and feelings about our problems. In this way we can discover the truth about ourselves and life itself that empowers us to find freedom from our psychological, emotional, spiritual, physiological pain and stress. We can in time come to realize that “it is not our circumstances that cause our pain and suffering but rather how we are choosing to judge and react to our circumstances.”- Epictetus, Ancient Greek Philosopher. The World Renown New York Times Best Selling Author of The Speed of Trust, Corporate Consultant and MBA College Professor, Steven Covey, stated this fundamental truth another way, that “our quality of life is based only on 10% of what happens to us and 90% on how we react to what happens to us.”
So how do we gain conscious control of how we react to our problems?
Here are two, go to, simple and effective de-stress steps to move from being a reactive mess maker to being our conscious best self:
1. The first step is self awareness
It is our responsibility to notice when we are triggered and becoming reactive. When we are physically and emotionally reacting to a challenge and exhibiting the sympathetic nervous system’s fight or flight stress response we have very obvious physiological sensations and emotional feelings that start prior to saying and doing all of those reactive things we usually later regret. Notice yourself clenching your muscles of your hands, feet, face/head, back and shoulders. Notice the knots and nausea that can begin in your stomach. Notice if you start to get acid re-flux, lose your voice/feel a knot in your throat, lose your appetite or get a stronger appetite when you are stressed. Stressful thoughts about our problems, let alone more extreme perceived threats such as having a face to face verbal disagreement with someone or physical confrontation of some kind with someone in person trigger our cranial nerves to react and tense up the muscles they innervate. This is where all of our neck and shoulder stiffness pain and palpable knots, headaches, loss of voice, and nausea symptoms of stress come from. When these sensations occur we need to acknowledge that we are in our flight or fight sympathetic nervous system response and if we stay triggered we will pay a high price of not only acute head, neck, back, shoulder, foot and hand pain but ultimately we are creating our own chronic illnesses of the heart, kidney and digestive systems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, adrenal burnout, ulcers, IBS, Crohn’s, Ulcerative Cholitis, and (Colon/Breast/Lung/Uterine) Cancers.
It is very important to understand that when we are stuck in the sympathetic fight or flight stress nervous system response our digestive and immune systems shut down and our body stops resting, digesting and repairing itself. We must consciously take action immediately to break ourselves out of this subconscious, auto pilot stress response and force our body to go back to the ideal state of our parasympathetic nervous system’s rest, digest and repair mode that fosters our long-term health and longevity. Besides physiological disease prevention, taking action to make ourselves relax when we notice we are stressed also has the added quality of life benefits of fostering more mental clarity, better creative problem solving ability and communication, enhanced positive mood and more energy.
2. Step two is to stop and take de-stress action of walking and/or deep abdominal breathing
We need to get out of our flight or flight sympathetic nervous system stress response as soon as possible before short and long term horrible consequences occur. One of the best ways to shift back to our ideal rest and digest parasympathetic nervous system response is to get out of our head and into our bodies again with movement and breathing. If you cannot physically take a time out and remove yourself from the presence of the stressful situation which is ideal to re-group and re-focus, then ask whomever you are with to walk and talk about the issue and/or stand/sit up straight and start breathing deep into your abdomen. One of the best ways to defuse a confrontation is to walk while you talk. Especially walking outside in nature defuses stress because the frequency of nature is a calming and grounding 1/2 hertz. When our body is in the presence of nature it naturally changes frequency to this ideal 1/2 hertz and we feel calm, centered, grounded and better able to communicate and listen effectively without being emotionally reactive. Walking alone allows one to safely direct the energy boost we get from the sympathetic fight or flight stress response into physical movement where it was meant to go rather than using the higher blood sugar rush by raising our voice, physically confronting others, and closing our hearts and minds off to effective communication by sitting or standing in an argumentative, defensive position. The walking movement allows the stress chemicals like cortisol that are released from your adrenal glands that raise our blood sugar and increase our energy to actually move through our body and be utilized which also reduces weight gain brought on by stress. Walking also forces our body to breath deeply. Deep breathing is important when we are in a stress response because it cleanses our lungs of residual carbon dioxide that gets trapped in our lungs when we naturally go into flight or flight and automatically hunch forward and breathe shallow from our chest. Shallow breathing that traps excess carbon dioxide in our lungs makes us confrontational, moody and cranky. One of the easiest ways to re-train ourselves to breath deeply is to place our hand on our abdomen below our belly button and breathe into our hand.
When we are faced with stress we can immediately take action and start deep breathing for at least 2-5 minutes no matter where we are or who we are with at any given time. Then when the timing is right we can take a walk in nature if possible for as little as 5 minutes to re-group. These very simple and doable actions can be done many times throughout the day as needed. We can look at our body as a great pet simply waiting to be trained to better serve and support us. When we send clear consistent messages on a daily basis to our body and nervous system for as little as two weeks our training takes effect and our body will respond more easily and immediately to the same message regularly in routine. It is most important to remember that we are in control at all times of how we allow ourselves to judge and react to our challenges. How we think about our problems creates our physical, emotional and spiritual state of being. By consciously choosing what we think and how it makes us feel we consciously create our physical state of health or disease. We do not have to accept getting stuck in our flight or flight stress response from our overwhelming, overstimulating stressful modern world. We can consciously choose to take these simple actions to re-set our nervous system and foster our own longevity, health and well being at any given time in our real daily life. Remember that you are empowered and always in control of your reaction to your challenges and can create quality of life for yourself regardless of your circumstances.