Stress, like steam in a tea kettle, needs an escape. You must either release it or turn the heat down. Environmental or emotional, stress is responsible for deteriorating physical diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, depression, sleep disorders, and chronic fatigue.
Most of us are aware of the medical advice to combat stress:
- Take deep breaths
- Get adequate sleep
- Eat healthy
- Exercise regularly
- Get 15 minutes of sunshine daily
- Supplement with vitamins
- Manage your stress
Not only does stress deplete the body, but it exhausts the mind. That brain fog can be counter-productive to managing your health or your productivity. Stress exhausts your creative side and clouds your thinking. And in this world that can pummel our serenity, it’s easy to fall into overload.
When the fight or flight response is activated, the body increases certain functions in anticipation of danger. Particular bodily tasks slow in order to reserve energy for our muscles. These functions include digestion, sexual responses, peripheral vision (loss of), hearing (diminished), and spinal reflexes (disengagement of). We may also become hyper-aware, easily agitated, anxious and aggressive awaiting the imminent ‘attack’ our bodies are telling us is on the way. To control our concentration, emotional responses are also tightly regulated.
These magnificent reactions were designed over time to protect us when faced with a stalking lion, or a charging rhino– rare, intermittent situations. Yet when we’re living this way more often than not, always subconsciously believing danger or attack is just around the corner, it programs an underlying perception into us– one that tells us nearly everything is dangerous, or a possible threat to our survival. Our brain struggles to differentiate between actual control issues and perceived control. Perceived control can cause us to overestimate the threat, and underestimate our ability to manage it. And it is this mental skirmish that causes so much of the anxiety and/or aggression.
Living in a state of fight or flight more hours in the day than not, there’s no need to wonder why we’ve seen such an increase in ill-health and disease in general. Adding to this list are emotional dysfunctions, relationship issues, self-medicating addictions and a lack of consequence recognition.
The good news, however, is there’s a reason we have five senses. Each one of them delivers information to our body and mind in a different manner. When we exist in the fight or flight mode as a rule rather than the exception, we drain the senses and their data storage system within us. Perhaps we can also reverse the response by encouraging the senses to stand down. I’ve used this method over and over again with great success.
Here’s the process, broken down into 5 simple tips, each one corresponding to one of our 5 senses:
1) Smell something
Take your nose for a walk, get out of your cubical or office, and smell something different, something soothing: the morning air, food on the grill, a new car smell, whatever it may be. Breathe it in deeply.
2) Touch something
The idea here is to stimulate your sense of touch beyond the daily sensory overload. Smooth down some cotton sheets, pet an animal, dig in the dirt, hit a punching bag or squeeze a stress ball. There’s no right or wrong touch here; it simply must be different than typical. Or better yet, get a hand and arm massage. Or the whole massage.
3) Taste something
Eat something you normally don’t. Take a walk, find a hole in the wall restaurant that is not a typical meal for you. Eat slowly, savor the new textures, smells, seasoning and presentation.
4) Stimulate the Eyes
Change your scenery. If you work in the city, find a park or open space just to look at. Visit an art museum, garden, hilltop or the top of a building. Sit. Take in the view. They say the eyes are the window to the soul, perhaps allow your soul to be refreshed with new sites.
This one is huge. We’ve often become so unaware of the noises around us that we don’t realize how overstimulated our hearing is. Ever notice when most people vacation, they head for water? I believe there is power in the timing of an ocean wave to reset the body’s clock. Like a metronome, the consistent ebb and flow of the surf slows our internal timing. Find a waterfall, a water fountain, or some other rhythmic sound and sit.
Music has a way of re-synchronizing us also. The rhythm of your feet running a slow, steady pace, or a dance done in 2/4 time rather than 4/4 time may reorganize the ‘fight or flight’ sprint.
The one thing all of these methods have in common? Presence. They’re all ways of bringing you back to yourself, back to the present moment, through the 5 senses we’ve all been graced with. And, while they’re surely simple methods, it isn’t easy. It takes practice to recognize the stresses that trigger your fight mode, but in time, learning to be more aware may help you to stop the responses before they begin.
Training ourselves to quiet our minds, nurture our bodies and refresh our senses may help to thwart off unwelcome stress and disease invited by overload. Learning to relax and be still will go a long way to circumventing mental exhaustion.