"Running Crazy!" "SOO busy!" "Stressed!"
Are those some of the answers you hear yourself giving when someone asks you the simple question, "How are you?"
We all have so much going on. Now, with the Holidays upon us, it just keeps piling on. The
commitments continue to get added to your calendar and pot luck dish creations keep getting put on you To Do list. And, you know there won't be much relief until February.
That is when it happens. Your breath starts to get shallow, you palms may start to sweat. You have trouble concentrating on any one thing because there are so many things to do. Your thoughts become a bit jumbled. You can't find the right words when you need them. You start snapping at the people you love the most. That's it. You're stressed.
What happens when we start to feel overwhelmed or stressed is that the hormones are taken over by our body and cortisol is released. Cortisol is like the cheerleader for stress. It is there to intentionally slow blood flow to the brain and redirect it to the muscles - so we can escape whatever dangerous situation that is causing this "stress" message. However, chances are you are not running from a large toothed beast with talons for claws. Chances are you double booked yourself between your office party and a volunteer commitment you made month's ago. Either way, it is real. The hormones are released and you feel like you are running for your life.
Help is on the way! Here are three things you can do to mitigate that overwhelmed feeling as it starts to come over you. Try them all to see which works best in certain situations.
The first, easiest, most cost effective and fastest acting you are doing right now already. You are doing it and probably aren't even thinking about it. Breathing.
That's right - breathing. Not the kind of breathing you do when you aren't even thinking about breathing. Intentional Breathing. This is slow, steady breath that reaches into your stomach rather than your chest. A favorite practice of mine is the 5-5-5.
How this works is you inhale through your nose - slowly and deeply for a count of 5. Then you hold for a count of 5. Exhale slowly for a count of 5. Repeat 5 times.
That's it. You can do it anywhere, anytime - there is no special equipment and most of the time, no one even knows you are doing it. But, what it does do is increases the flow of oxygen to the brain. This in turn, increases the effectiveness of your pre-frontal cortex which controls decision making. It slows down that constant stream of thoughts that have been swirling. You start to remember your words, what you were going to do, say and why. This is a good thing.
Take a hike!
This doesn't mean you have to strap on your snowshoes and head for the hills. Studies have
shown that a leisurely paced 15 minute walk lowers your cortisol levels significantly. Getting a short walk not only makes you feel more relaxed, but it also mitigates the negative effects of cortisol on insulin sensitivity. Yes, being stressed can make you more insulin resistant, which leads to weight gain, especially around the middle.
Want to super-boost this positive effect? The same studies show that spending time with friends ALSO lowers cortisol levels - so grab some freinds and go for a walk!
Watch a TedTalk
Well, not just any TedTalk! Watch Amy Cuddy's "How Your Body Language Shapes You." Not only watch it, but try it for yourself. She has completed an amazing study about how your body language actually controls your hormones - particularly cortisal (stress cheerleader) and testosterone (team calm).
Cuddy finishes with the statement you don't "fake it til you make it", you "fake it til you become it". I prefer the later. Watch the TedTalk here.
Whether you prefer breathing, walking or Power Poses - the important thing is that we are always bringing our best self to any given situation. If we are stressed, preoccupied or ineffective because of either of those, we are not bringing that best self.
Enjoy the holidays and share these tips with your friends and family that may be a little strung out this season - they will thank you!