Have you managed to master your body’s stress response?
Probably not. And you’re not alone…not many of us have. You might even be wondering why it matters.
Harvard Medical School tells us exactly why…because “chronic activation of this survival mechanism impairs your health.”
When stress occurs in life, your central nervous system goes into overdrive and your “fight or flight” hormones kick in.
The emotions of fear or anger are often felt first physically – for example your heart may race, your face might get flushed, your stomach may “sink,” your hands may tremble… All warning signs from your body that something isn’t right and you need to either go into full combat mode or run like crazy.
Remember how high school peer pressure could occasionally get us into trouble by making choices we otherwise wouldn’t?
The physical discomfort of our body’s immediate, short-term stress response can get our brains to react in rash ways with ill-advised actions that may feel better in the moment, but often have long-term consequences that are worse than the initial problem.
A great example of stress response causing bad decisions is road rage, where mindfulness goes out the window and the consequences can be far more devastating than whatever driving error caused an issue.
Another way stress compounds itself is when we choose to handle stress during disagreements with sarcasm and name-calling. Harsh, critical words are the sharpest weapons in our personal defense arsenals.
“Telling someone off” may feel like an act of ego-sparing self-love in the moment, but words can make deep, painful cuts that leave scars which are never forgotten.
Thoughtless words destroy trust and leave relationships for dead – causing even more anxiety.
The good news is that your fitness program can help you strengthen significantly, not just physically, but also mentally. It helps you master your body’s stress response.
A mindful approach to exercise can help us improve our body’s stress response system by training it to accept stress and simply not over-respond to it in the first place. Here are three ways to improve how your body reacts to stress:
1. Breathe deeply
The greater the discomfort, the deeper the breath.
Oxygen allows your muscles to fire – and, also to release.
A racehorse in motion is a great example of muscles firing and releasing in balance without extra tension where it’s not needed. Focusing on your breath during exercise will allow your weight loss program to do way more than just change your body – it will literally change your mind.
2. Be intentional
Acknowledge that you are using your workout, not just to improve physically, but also mentally.
Welcome the opportunity to practice grace as you challenge yourself physically so you will learn to respond with the same calm and clarity when life hands you lemons.
No matter how hard you’re working or your level of discomfort, determine to keep your shoulders dropped and your face relaxed. Do not add tension.
3. Practicing quiet as a means to managing your body’s stress response
During exercise, have the mindfulness to avoid grunting, slamming weights or cursing during hard workouts. Instead, practice accepting discomfort as a momentary means to an end and choose not to respond.
This may sound laughable (especially the not cursing part), but teaching yourself not to broadcast the physical stress of hard exercise is a powerful step to training yourself not to “give air” to mental stress of challenging people or situations as well.
By choosing not to react to discomfort in your body, you teach you central nervous system to stay chill – a habit that will rollover to daily life when you are experiencing mental unease or emotional discomfort.
And if you remember this one thing, you won’t go far wrong: Working with breath, intention and quiet during exercise trains your body’s ability to manage stress.