By Michelle Owens
What would you do if a sinister-looking stranger approached you with a steaming, smelly mug of mystery brew and said, “Drink in this hot mess! It will cause your heart to work overtime, shut down important body functions and leave you to live a miserable life of pain, inattentiveness and discomfort.”
It’s easy to think that we’d tell the grim drink peddler, in no uncertain terms, what he could do with his creepy concoction.
But the reality is that many of us routinely take a long, deep chug from a toxic mess known as stress. And it has the same debilitating effects as that imaginary mystery brew.
Stress is a physiological reaction to situations you perceive as threatening to your way of life. Examples include career anxieties, caring for children or elderly parents, money problems or a change in marital status. The mind sends signals to the body that these stressors represent danger, and the body responds by having the adrenal glands that sit above the kidneys pump out adrenaline and noradrenaline hormones. The autonomic nervous system kicks in and the body gets ready for “fight or flight” – to face the danger or run from it.”
The heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, muscles become tense and the body begins to sweat. To have enough energy for these changes to occur, the body also must shut down other systems not crucial to the coming “fight or flight.” This includes digestion, elimination, growth, repair and reproduction.
In a normal stress cycle, once the danger subsides, all bodily systems, including those that were shut down, return to normal function. But sometimes with our hectic, modern-day lifestyles, the stressors never go away.
What if we are always worried about jobs, money, or family? What if physiologically, the body stays in “fight or flight” mode and certain bodily functions never find homeostasis? Then what happens?
You enter the zone of chronic stress, according to Dr. Judith Hanson Lasater, a well-know yoga teacher, physical therapist and psychologist. Lasater, author of “Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times,” writes that, “One thing is certain: The more stress we experience, the more its effects compound within us. When stress becomes chronic, a residue builds up in the body that can lead to disease”
If you’re drowning in a messy mixture of stress, tension and anxiety, you can save yourself by choosing to de-stress rather than distress.
Lasater teaches that, “The antidote to stress is relaxation.” Find a local relaxation or mediation class. Or spend as little as 5 to 10 minutes a day at home or work practicing progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) exercises that help you release and relax.
A basic PMR exercise involves tensing a muscle on an inhalation and releasing the muscle on the exhalation. Start at the top of the head and progress down your body, tensing, one at a time, the muscles in the face, torso, arms, hands, legs and feet. Or if you prefer, start at the feet and work up the body. At the end of the exercise, allow yourself several minutes to enjoy the wave of relaxation washing over your body and the sweet taste of this rejuvenating stillness.
About the author: Michelle Owens, is a Yoga Alliance-registered yoga teacher and owner of Yoga East studio (www.yogaeastorlando.com) in downtown Avalon Park. She can be reached at email@example.com.