When we get overly stressed in life, even small upsets can feel enormous.
But what is stress, really? It's a word that is thrown around a lot and would you know it's a relatively new term. Most of the studies on stress happened in the mid 20th century by one Hans Selye. (Learn more about him here)
Yes, there are the major stressors like injury, money, relationships, and work. Your mind and body though can view many other (seemingly smaller) things as ‘stressful.’ The alarm you wake up to, sugar you eat for breakfast, maybe something you eat and are sensitive to, the smell of cleaning chemicals or car fumes, sitting in traffic, an argument. Stress can be environmental, emotional, structural or biochemical. Crazy enough it can even be positive! Good stress can be exercise or excitement. As you can see it’s a very broad thing. The thing of it is your body doesn’t know the difference between the big stuff and the small stuff. It is going to react in a similar way no matter what.
We even have special glands for stress, called our adrenal glands. They sit on top of our kidneys and pump out hormones in response to stresses we experience. You’ve probably heard of some of the hormones: cortisol, and adrenaline (also called epinephrine).
I love the illustration my nutritional therapy instructor made about stress in our lives. It goes like this: visualize a beaker, like the kind a chemist would use. Let’s call it your Beaker of Stress. Everybody’s beaker will start out about 30% full, because simply running our body creates a little bit of stress and that's normal. Then it will start to fill up with other stressors we experience in life. As we get closer to the top it will take less to make it spill over. So, even a tiny stress can send us over the edge.
Ever blown up over something, that looking back, seemed maybe not to be such a big deal? Or consciously know that something isn’t that big of a deal but still felt overwhelmed?
This is when our beaker is full to the brim and even something small with over fill it.
When our Beaker of Stress overflows is when dysfunction is likely to happen. Our body is less able to do the things it innately knows how to do. Our body does know how to heal itself, it knows how to be healthy and to perform well, but stresses start to get in the way of that. It’s almost like our body can get so overwhelmed it throws its hands up and says ‘f*ck it!’
The goal then, is to take a few smaller stressors off of the body so it can do it’s work and remember how to heal and be healthy. By relieving some stressors we will be better able to handle, and deal with the bigger stuff as well.
A couple of little things add up to one whole big thing. Don’t underestimate those small victories!
The crazy thing about stress though is part of it is purely mental, our thoughts about it. When our thoughts about an event or situation are stress filled the impact on our body will be much more intense. If we get angry and stressed during traffic our bodies will have a stress response. If during that traffic we are able to brush it off and think perhaps it gives us extra time to listen to our favorite music the effect the traffic has on our body will be different. Similarly, if we are faced with some daunting healing or rehabilitation and we adopt the mindset that it is 'too much,' or 'impossible' we set ourselves up for that being true and for things to be more difficult.
Our mental stress around the physical limitation or challenge will only exacerbate it. IF we choose to think of this illness or injury as a challenge that we will learn from and that we are sure to overcome there is more of a chance for healing.
Stress. It's physical and it's mental, but the mental can drive the severity of the physical.
Stress management is something we hear a lot about in our lives these days, and for how important it is unfortunately we are most often not equipped with the tools to see it through.
Being able to allow our body and mind to enter a relaxed state is essential for the healing of the body (not to mention, detoxification and digestion!). Yoga is a holistic way to quiet the mind, relax the body and give ourselves space to facilitate healing. It's a way to focus in on the present, to get in our body, feel our breath and slow down.
We often hear yoga suggested as a stress management tool or a form of movement that is important to healing, but there are so many styles out there and sometimes going to class can be intimidating. This is why I created Yoga for Healing, an online program designed to help us enter into that quiet and relaxed space in us where healing happens. Not only will we work toward more strength, flexibility and mobility but we practice breathing techniques and reframe out thoughts.
Healing starts with the ability to calm our minds and relax our bodies. Chronic stress and stressful thoughts will only keep us stuck, with the potential of making things worse. Get on the healing train and meet me on the mat for some yoga!
PS. To learn more about Yoga for Healing head over here!