I have an underlying theme to this blog and it is how we make decisions and how to get comfortable standing by the decisions we make. I was also going to focus on healthy habits that helped reduce stress. I posted a Ted Talk a few days ago. Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend. If you haven’t watched it yet, I really encourage you to do so. It is eye opening how just a change in your perception can change how the body responds to the effects of stress. The belief that chronic stress negatively effects your health is what causes your blood vessels to constrict not stress. In her talk Kelly shows that blood vessels will constrict under times of stress for those individuals that believe stress is harmful. She shows that just the opposite is true for those individuals that see the body’s natural responses to stress as positive. Instead they see the body’s natural response to stress as helpful tools to better prepare them to handle the stress. In these individuals it was shown that during times of stress their blood vessels remain relaxed with no change. Their heart was still pounding, their breath would be quicker and they quite possibly had signs of sweating on the forehead. However and this is the important part, they had zero changes in the blood vessel. She also talked about the hormone oxytocin that is released during times of stress. This is also known as the cuddle hormone as it is released when you hug someone. (For pet lovers…. it has also been shown to release when you pet your dog and it is also released in the dog you are petting!). She describes the hormone as a social hormone that is released during stress to help motivate you reach out to others for support. It also enhances your empathy. It is a natural anti-inflammatory and helps your blood vessels stay relaxed. She notes that the hormone is also released when you reach out for support and when you support others. She talked about another study that showed caring and connecting with others during times of stress created resilience. My main goal for this site is to help build a healthy community and connect individuals with the same mindset.
Hearing her talk was life saving news for me. I was one of those that believed stress had a negative impact and was always stressing about how do I reduce my stress, and how to keep my work/home life balanced at all times. I was stressing about my stress. I would wake up at 5:00, hit the road at 5:30 a.m to attend a 6:00 a.m. yoga class before work. Yoga class was 1.5 hours and if I didn’t leave class a few minutes early, I had to jump up immediately while everyone was laying down for the last few minutes to make sure I was at least the second person out of the room so I could hit an open shower without waiting. My location had 2 showers. I would blow dry my hair at high speed and race out the door, stressing that I would be five minutes late. But I had to do this to keep my day zen! I did this for months on end. Then a few months ago I had to change my schedule. My 12 year old lab Summer was diagnosed with cancer and I couldn’t walk her at the end of the day. The Texas heat was just too much for her. It took her breath away to walk a few feet. I knew she really missed her walks. To keep her spirits up I decided I would walk her and my 3 year old pup Cooper at 5:00 in the morning. Oh no!! a stressor, what about my yoga, how was I going to handle stress now? After a few days of walking the pups in the morning, I noticed that I was much more relaxed at work. I really enjoyed walking under the stars, feeling the morning breeze and seeing how happy and relaxed my pups were during their walk and when I left for work. Normally they would stand in the kitchen with their heads down when I grabbed my keys. When Cooper would see the keys in my hand, he would run in the laundry room and try to block me from leaving through the garage. I would have to walk back to the kitchen and open the treat drawer to get him out of the laundry room. On the mornings we walked, he would lay in his favorite lazy-boy chair as I gathered my purse and keys and just look up as I walked out the room. What a change. The second thing I noticed was that I had to realize that trying to keep a balance each day was nearly impossible. Instead I switched to being mindful of the balance each week instead of each day. Some days, work would take priority and I would stay late and handle things, on other days, I left on time and saved my pending items for the next day. I try to make sure within each week I have a good balance. Now knowing the importance of making stress my friend, I am mindful of how I perceive my body’s response to stress.