Flippin’ Stress

It’s no coincidence that the word ‘stressed’ spells ‘desserts’ backwards. Lately, I’ve been realizing how stress has been a big factor of why I’ve flipped myself upside down, metaphorically and literally. It isn’t just some hippy sh**t– this healing stuff. There is science to back up the countless hours spent meditating, yoga’ing and receiving massage. The proof is in the pudding.

Stress is linked to the leading causes of death-heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide, (American Psychological Association). It takes less than a millisecond for us to “flip out” activating the “fight or flight” response, or in technical terms the sympathetic nervous system. Our heart rate, blood pressure, mental alertness and muscle tension all go up to serve our survival needs. The body shuts down digestion, elimination, growth, repair and reproduction systems so that we have the energy to defend.

Although we’re not hunting and gathering in the jungle these days, our genetic makeup is still wired the same. Instead of running from predators, we are now set off in an instant in our cars, in the office, on the web and in our own living rooms. These stress hormones; cortisol and adrenaline, are what allow a mom to lift a car off a baby. Stress hormones are useful at times but not always. Unlike other hormones that decline with age, cortisol is one that increases as you get older. It works against your body inhibiting maintenance and repair, which accelerates aging” (Dr. Al Sears). In chronic states of stress, our bodies begin to go “haywire”, our health diminishes and disease finds a place to live. The good hormones become diminished by the bad…

The “anti stress hormones” are the DHEA in the body. We secrete DHEA when we’re happy, secure and free of stress. The more DHEA in our body, the less effect stress will have on us. People with higher levels of DHEA experience “enhanced energy, better immunity, reduced body fat, sharper memory, and a reverse on physical aging,” (Dr. Rosenberg, The Anti-Stress Hormone). But, we lose DHEA during moments of chaos.  People that suffer from chronic stress have a DHEA deficiency.

Discovered by Dr. Herbert Benson, the relaxation response is a shift from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic system or the “rest in digest”. It moves the body toward a state of rest by lowering blood pressure, decreasing respiration, relaxing muscle tension, increasing blood flow to organs and shifts the good hormones to feel a sense of ease. Moving from the “flight or fight” to “rest and digest” takes 20 minutes. Seems kind of unfair that in less than a millisecond we are “flipping out” yet it takes much longer to calm down. But, that’s how we’ve survived.

Stress trumps mindfulness, we can’t help it; it’s in our genetic makeup. It’s  important to manage. Staying committed to a practice of easing is essential to keeping stress and it’s effects at bay. Give the body some yummy dessert with meditation, yoga and other relaxing techniques. Rest, digest, and just feel better.

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