I remember marveling at the mysterious adult experience of ‘stress’ as a child. I was perhaps eleven or twelve years old and reading a newspaper article about the common experience of stress and the significant health risks associated with being stressed out. I had no idea what ‘stressed out’ felt like….what a fabulous age to be alive.
Back then I didn’t need to worry about where my next meal is coming from or if there would always be a roof over my head. I trusted that it would be so. Once you feel like your own survival depends on you stress levels begin to rise.
Of course children feel stress too, but in a natural way. Stress is really a response to a perceived threat. Our adrenal glands sit on the kidneys and release cortisol when we are stressed, and with good reason. Cortisol kicks in the fight or fright response. Your heart beats quickly, blood drains from your organs to go to your limbs to allow stronger quicker movement for running away or fighting back. As the blood rushes to our limbs it drains from our internal organs, slowing digestion and other body processes. You might even eliminate your bowels and bladder (when really terrified). You become completely alert, your brain works clearer and faster for quick thinking. Cortisol is an anti-inflammatory that will allow you to run longer or fight harder with less pain, lowering your immune response in the process.
The average Australian child feels stress daily, as do all of us, but they have the opportunity to calm down through play and relaxation. A stressor will ignite a fight or fright response to which the child will react, they will get away from the problem or ride it out, and then they relax. Everything is back to normal.
This child experience of stress is really how it is supposed to be for all of us, so the scientists say. In an ideal world: You happen upon a threat – it frightens you – The fright stimulates your adrenals to release cortisol – you become very strong and fast and you RUN. As you run you burn off the cortisol. The problem ends. You rest and digest, you feel cosy and safe, you relax, things go back to normal and you feel peaceful and happy.
Now lets come back to modern day. Many people are stressed in one way or another ALL THE TIME. It’s not as simple as bare bones survival like in the animal kingdom, we torture ourselves with our own minds, believing things should be different to what they are and feeling like we should be achieving more then we have. You work long and hard for years and years to reach the pot of gold on the retirement rainbow. Then you can relax.
Continual stress means you are continually releasing cortisol…. So the stress response is constantly activated. This means lingering less then adequate digestion and and irritable bowel leading to nutritional deficiencies. The alertness brings chronic sleep disorder and anxiety. Your immune system is lowered…hello cold. Eventually the adrenals become exhausted and you start running on empty, and you develop some big grey saggy bags under your eyes. Cappucino anyone? Oh and guess what, caffeine stimulates cortisol release, which partly explains why caffeine makes you more alert and seemingly smarter for a short while. However too many coffee’s regularly will hasten adrenal burnout and heighten the destructive impact of your constant stress.
Good news! With a bit of action and mindfulness you can free yourself from this stress induced anguish. Exercise is crucial for this as it burns up excess cortisol, just as nature intended.
You need to schedule in exercise and rest times to avoid burnout. I say schedule because more then likely if it’s not scheduled, you’ll feel too ‘busy’ to relax.
By allowing yourself to truly relax, feel peace and just breath, you are giving your adrenals a well deserved break and allowing for restoration. Shiatsu massage is gorgeous for stress relief. You just have to lie there while the practitioner works at healing your tension and pain. The deep breathing and rest gives your cortisol levels a chance to drop to normal. Be kind to yourself and enjoy rest time regularly to save your immune system, improve your sleep, retain nourishment from your food and to simply feel joyful.
Take Action! Schedule in 2.5 hours of proper rest time spread throughout the next week, and 2.5 hours of exercise (not all at once). Don’t tell yourself you ‘have no time’ just distinguish the difference between important tasks and not important tasks to make room for your newfound self-care. If you adhere to your wellness schedule I promise you will be feeling a difference this time next week. I’d love you to share your de-stress activities in the comments below to inspire me and others on our wellness journey’s.
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Take extra precious care of your beautiful self.
Love Lib xxx