Updated: Apr 23, 2020
How to move from "Flight, Fight, Freeze" to "Rest and restore"
Stress is an inevitable part of our lives. In fact, stress is a necessary agent for action and change. The "right" kind of stress, EUSTRESS, manifests as a kind of motivating tension.. the kind we feel when preparing for an important event. This is different than DISTRESS, which is a more chronic tension.. the worry that keeps us up at night or the ruminating thoughts that prevent us from enjoying the presence of our lives. The good news is that we can train our bodies to shift from experiencing distress to eustress, simply by using the power of our conscious minds.
We have more control over our stress response than we realize
The good news is that we can train our bodies to shift from a Distress to Eustress response, simply by using the power of our conscious minds.
Research now proves that our ability to frame a situation - ie: how we choose to think about an experience - directly shapes how we feel on an emotional and physiological level. Our ability to frame events creates the difference between responding and reacting (ie: being in mastery of, or controlled by, our life circumstances). No matter what happens to us, we have the ability to categorize it as potentially helpful (for growth, resilience, strength, problem-solving, social or spiritual connection, etc) or, at the very least, we can choose to accept a situation for what it is, and allow ourselves to feel tender about the pain of it. The key is acceptance and integration, rather than avoidance (which tends to concentrate and store those emotions to torment the body). Ways to appropriately frame an experience includes: journaling and/or self-talk focusing on potential growth that could occur from a challenge, working with a therapist or mentor to create goals around a life change, focusing on gratitude for what we currently have (including more opportunities for growth), and focusing on living a healthy lifestyle complete with physical activity so that the body is also involved in processing emotions.
Creatures in the wild are absent of PTSD symptoms, and now we know why
If you've ever watched a near-death encounter by a prey and predator in the wild (ie: a gazelle and a lion in the African Sahara), you'll notice something startling: even after a death-defying encounter, that surviving prey is able to 'shake off fear' and continue on without exhibiting symptoms of trauma. Almost immediately after an acute stress response, a wild animal will physically convulse/shake/tremble for a few moments, which discharges that chemical energy rather than storing it in the body as trauma. Research suggests that for humans, the process of a 'stress-response discharge' is similar: when we physically move our bodies, particularly in an intentional, mindful way, we can begin to release emotional energy that has been trapped in the body, reducing PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) symptoms. The key is to stay fully attuned to bodily sensations and to allow those sensations (and corresponding emotions) to release when they arise (within a context of safety).
Mindfulness is a way of approaching life with a present-centered awareness, paying attention to what's happening in the moment instead of being lost in the past or what may happen in the future.
It is important that we know how to reduce symptoms of distress in our lives; this not only includes what is already stored in our bodies (through exercise, mindfulness practices, social support, etc), but also how to reduce the potential for more in our daily experience. One method of reducing distress is to become conscious consumers.
Diet: There is ample evidence that what we eat affects how we feel. 90% of serotonin receptors are located in the gut; when we ingest foods that are highly processed and low in nutrients, our body chemistry is effected (which negatively impacts our mood). Complex carbohydrates, Vitamin C, and Omega-3 fatty acids are associated with brain function; deficiencies can result in anxiety and/or depression. Vitamins and minerals found in fruits and vegetables work to neutralize harmful molecules produced when the body is under stress. High-fiber foods are associated with greater alertness and a reduced stress response, and healthy proteins help balance blood sugar levels (https://campushealth.unc.edu/health-topics/nutrition/nutrition-and-stress)
Media: Technology permeates our lives and has an enormous influence over our emotional state. A number of people are reportedly effected by “Headline Stress Disorder”, and the correlation between high social media use and rising symptoms of anxiety, depression, and ADHD (particularly in young people though we are all susceptible) has been proven by multiple studies. Online pornography is also a real concern for healthy identity and relationship development, as are a number of advertisements which suggest that we need to be/buy/become a certain way in order to be popular (or at least socially acceptable). All of this can increase the amount of inner tension we experience on a daily basis. Add to that the incessant barrage of phone notifications (ringing, dinging, buzzing), and it is no wonder why so many report a heightened state of internal anxiety. As a result, it is imperative that we moderate our media usage and become more conscious consumers.
the most important thing to remember, is to remember!
Amid the "busy" of our lives, it is easy to fall into patterns that "get us by" (ie: survive) versus make us feel vital (ie: thrive). It is therefore important to create healthy routines that mitigate our levels of distress, and increase the amount of contentment we experience on a daily basis. What habits do you want to create? How can you seek support so that you "remember to remember?"