“Health is not only to be well but to use well all the powers that you have.” – Florence Nightingale
We all know January is the “time to chill.” But in this post, we’re going to discuss chilling as a means of reducing stress, tension, anxiety and negativity in your life. To that end, here are some key facts about stress:
- Your body can’t discriminate between major stressors and minor ones. Whether it’s a traffic jam or a computer virus, the stress reaction triggers a cascade of 1,400 biochemical events in your body, taking over a critical part of our brain.
- Stress can make smart people do stupid things: clouding our thinking, draining our energy, undercutting our productivity, and even aging us prematurely if left unchecked. We’ve all “lost it” in a stressful situation, likely surprising even ourselves. That’s because stress causes what researchers call “cortical inhibition,” bottle-necking our brain function. And the shallow breathing of stress raises heart rate and blood pressure, even changing blood chemistry in a way that makes your platelets stickier. Sadly, that increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. No wonder there’s an expression about taking “a chill pill”!
- We can grow numb to stress with enough exposure. Often the daily pressures and irritations of life begin to seem like “the new normal” and cease to faze us. But we may not realize how much they’re undermining our mental, emotional, and physical health until it manifests as a rash decision, an impulsive outburst, or even an unwanted medical diagnosis.
- We are fully in control of how we react to stress! We can rewire our stress response to override it with calm, cool and collected “coherence” — bringing the brain, heart and nervous system in harmony, and fostering peak performance.
- Handling stress in the moment is the best strategy. Millions of us use the “binge and purge” approach to stress: letting it build up all day, burying it inside, and waiting for an evening yoga class or the weekend. This doesn’t work — the stress response has already activated.
The good news: positive emotion is the antidote to stress in every way, and this mode of thought and reaction grows stronger with practice. And because it utilizes the same receptors as stress, it’s literally impossible to feel stress while you’re cultivating positive emotion and positive thinking. One strategy to do so is a combination of deep breathing and gratitude for the joyful things in our lives. Place your hand on your heart, visualize your breath moving in and out through your heart, and think of a person or place that brings you joy. You can use this practice before you fall asleep, when you wake up in the middle of the night, to prepare for an important communication (from a meeting to a mingle), and to recoup or recover from a stressful situation. Studies show it leads to improved relationships, improved sleep, improved performance at work and at play, and a greater sense of balance and ease.