To pick up where we left off in the last blog, I suggested we figure out, ‘what must I do to get out of threat/stress physiology?’ Here are some tools that tune our bodies back into the other side of the “coin,” out of threat physiology, back to calm sense of safety. I will share four tools today. Just for fun and for ease of memorizing, they will all begin with an S.
1.SLOW DOWN: When you find yourself walking too fast, talking too fast, eating too fast, etc., stop for a minute and then begin again slowly. Let your life’s pace be a saunter not a sprint. It makes a big difference in your physiology and to your tensed and braced muscles.
2. SILENCE: If you find yourself talking a blue streak to mask or release your anxiety, stop talking and practice silence. Females tend to try to use a flow of words to reduce anxiety a bit more often than males, but whichever sex you are, if you catch yourself talking non-stop, ask yourself W. A. I. T.? That stands for ‘Why Am I Talking? One of my friends calls this “fire-hosing”, a great description. Silence is calming for most people and allows our nervous systems to settle back down. Extraverts will have a harder time with this tool than Introverts.
3. SHIFT FOCUS: What we focus upon determines how we feel. If you don’t believe me, think back to the last time you worried and remember how bad your body felt. In almost every situation there is some positive element. But because our brains are biased to the negative, we get stuck in the negative and fearful aspects of a situation. When you are stuck in threat mode, deliberately look for the positive aspects of the situation. If that fails, focus on the positive aspects of your life. For example, the ability most of us have to walk, talk, take hot showers, and eat 3 meals per day. There are a myriad of wonderful factors in our everyday lives if we will but look for them, and then allow ourselves to feel gratitude for them. People who have a consistent practice of gratitude are happier and healthier than the general population for this very reason.
4. SELF-AWARENESS (especially of your body’s sensations): This is a simple but effective tool that can help keep your body out of stress physiology, or shift it to safety more quickly. Clients who are able to stay present to their lives and become aware of their body’s sensations as soon as the sensations arise, spend much less time in stress physiology. As I have mentioned in prior blogs, the body speaks in sensations, not words. So when you become aware of that heavy feeling of dread in your belly, or the tightness in your chest, as soon as it occurs, you have a much better chance of quickly shifting those sensations. If you don’t notice them until the sensations of fear and anxiety have been roaming your body for minutes or hours, and have hunkered down inside like soldiers in a foxhole, you can be stuck in them for a long time. The longer a sensation stays in your body underneath your awareness, the stronger it gets. So if you are able to focus on the positive aspects of the situation, or focus on positive hopes for future outcome, you will have more peace within your body.
Using these and many other tools, millions of people have learned how to move from threat physiology back into a sense of grounded safety, our Autonomic Nervous System at rest. Rest and Digest is actually the term used of this state, to denote that the major systems of our body are at rest and we are able to digest our food, liquids and solids. This of course is the opposite of the Fight or Flight system, another term for stress physiology, which stops digestion and puts stress on most of the major systems of the body and impacts, metabolism, respiration, blood flow, heart rate variability, stress hormones, and our muscle/skeletal system as we brace and tense our muscles in preparation for danger.
This week, I encourage you to pick one or two of the tools and try them consistently when you begin to feel stressed. Notice what happens and pay attention to the ones that work best for you. Please let me know how it works out.
- Do you ever practice gratitude? Why or Why not? If you do not, is there anything blocking you from trying this wonderful practice that has so many health benefits?
- Which of the tools sound hard or impossible to you and why do you think this is the case? For many people self-awareness can be a challenge. If it is for you, what might you do that could help make this a bit easier for you?
I am still providing 3 week anxiety reduction workshops here in San Diego. If you are interested in 90 minutes of training, 3 weeks in a row. Let me know. I will provide a 10% discount to anyone mentioning this blog! Life is too short to be afraid!