Stress all Around
We are living in stressful times. Stressors are everywhere, every day: hectic mornings, long to-do lists, power struggles with kids or partners; work commutes with traffic; discontent clients, colleagues, and bosses; long work hours; tight schedules; unpaid bills; challenging interpersonal dynamics; and so on. Maybe our parents’ generation was able to leave stress at the workplace. But, today with smart phones and social media, there are fewer boundaries and less down time. Take all of this and then add in a traumatic life event like a death of a loved one, a job loss, a divorce, or the current presidential election (if you’re a progressive like! me!) and life can seem pretty darn stressful.
You probably don’t need me to tell you that your stress is costing you BIG in terms of your physical health, mental and emotional health and in your core relationships, but just in case you’ve forgotten, I’m here to remind you that stress disrupts every major system in the body.
Chronic stress predisposes you to:
The physiological effects of just one stressful event in a day last a long time in the body. Anytime you experience a significant stressor, your body’s fight or flight response (the sympathetic nervous system) kicks in and bathes your body with cortisol and adrenaline so that you can battle the saber toothed tiger that is running toward you. But, of course, there is no saber toothed tiger, you just forgot to send off that one email. Long after your stressful experience has passed, stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol still linger in your body, wreaking havoc on your digestive system and causing inflammation.
Self Care Habits for Stress
As a health coach and yoga teacher, it’s a major mission of mine to help folks unravel their stress. Whether it’s in a yoga class or in a health coaching program, I want to help people move away from stress and toward ease.
Each week this month, I’m offering you a self-care habit to ward off stress. This week’s habit is: Soaking in the Good. I learned this habit from my friend and colleague Lisa Iverson. She learned it from Dr. Rick Hanson, psychologist and Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and best-selling author of Hardwiring Happiness, Buddha’s Brain, and Just One Thing.
Understanding your built-in Negativity Bias
According to Hanson, we humans have a built-in negativity bias. That is to say, we are wired to be vigilant and way and to be on the alert for negative or potentially harmful events. Think saber-toothed tiger (or Trump!). This is what has helped us survive as a species. Confronted with a potential threat and a potential reward, our human ancestors consistently chose to move away from a threat rather than toward a reward. Dr. Rick Hanson says to think of these as carrots and sticks. Our ancestors made the evolutionary choice to move away from a stick rather toward a carrot, and this wiring has stuck. The carrot may be there tomorrow but if we get whacked by the stick, we won’t be there to enjoy it. You can read more about Dr. Rick Hanson’s explanation on this subject here, but the short version is that we are hard wired as a species to look out for negative events at the expense of pursuing a reward or pleasurable experience.
This plays out in our daily life and core relationships in the following ways: It takes five positive interactions with someone to make up for one negative interaction. People will work harder to not lose $100 than to work to gain the same amount. We remember negative events more clearly than we remember positive ones. Rick Hanson says that our “brains are like Velcro for negative experiences and like Teflon for positive ones.”
Our Brains are Plastic
The good news is that our brains are plastic. That is, neuro-plastic. Our brain circuits can be rewired. We can rewire our brains toward positivity. You know this already if you practice yoga. Watch what happens when you sit down on your mat, close your eyes and deepen your breath. You exhale fully and your stress from the day begins to melt away. You have set into motion a physiological and neurological response which is the opposite of the fight or flight response. Just by breathing in and then exhaling fully, you stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system response which calms you down, and inclines your brain and body toward positivity and well-being. There are other practices off the mat where we can do this as well.
Anti-Stress Habit: Soaking in the Good
Soaking in the Good is Rick Hanson’s simple practice that you can do several times daily to help rewire your brain toward positivity. It’s easy. Here’s how:
Try this practice out and let me know what you think!
Because when you stop and look around, this life is pretty amazing. – Dr. Seuss
Annie Barrett. Educator, certified health coach yoga instructor.