Have you ever noticed that after a particularly stressful period in your life you feel really tired? That’s how stress affects most of us, because we become amped up on stress hormones our nervous system revs up. The sympathetic “fight or flight” response is in full swing along with a cascade of stress hormones ready to meet the challenge at hand.
A near miss car crash, being attacked by a vicious dog, or seeing your baby in physical harm’s way will get your heart racing in seconds from the release of the first round of stress hormones: adrenaline and norepinephrine. Acting as accelerators, these hormones cause heart rate to soar and the sympathetic nervous system predominates in case you have to “fight or take flight”. You become “super human” to deal with the imminent situation or stressor. Under real physical threats, you want your body to respond appropriately without you having to think about what to do.
What if the threat isn’t a physical one, but a mental-emotional one—and what if it goes on for a long time, for days, weeks, or even years?
If you, like the majority of people, are under chronic levels of high stress, then you probably feel tired a lot of the time. Your body is working hard to protect you against the tiger that isn’t there; you were not designed to stay in high alert as a normal state of being. Most of the time the outside stressor is a perceived threat, not a physical one where you really need all hands on deck to protect your life or someone else’s. From unrealistic work deadlines and family obligations to financial crunches and the more collective political and environmental challenges we face create ongoing stress that doesn’t seem to have a solution.
Most people in modern society are living with high levels of stress in daily life. It has become the norm in 21st Century America, and around much of the world, and contributes substantially to our health (physical and mental) issues. According to the American Institute of Stress, three out of four doctor visits are stress related. Further, the AIS reports that the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke increase 40%, 25%, and 50% respectively. Everyone compensates for the stress in their lives, and often the choices are not healthy ones: overeating, excessive alcohol consumption, and numbing out in a countless other ways.
The Stress Cycle:
The amygdala, a part of the “old brain,” is vigilant in maintaining a constant surveillance for potential dangers. When a perceived threat is recognized by the amygdala then “all hands on deck” to get safe again. The amygdala does not distinguish the potential for harm from the incoming stressors, it biochemically shouts out “warning, warning!” and activates our body’s natural response.
If the rational mind doesn’t interrupt the flow and discern whether the threat is real or perceived, then the hypothalamus in your brain orchestrates the release of several more hormones. The pituitary gland, adrenal glands, and several other glands begin the chain of reactions that prepare you for super human performance.
If the stress response isn’t interrupted, then the adrenal glands begin to release the steroid cortisol to combat the perceived threat. Glucose (sugar) gets released into the blood stream so that you will have extra energy to fight or flee. Blood vessels dilate preparing for increased blood flow, which increases your blood pressure.
This is the brilliance of our body’s design, and you don’t have to think about what to do when you ae in physical danger. Your body takes charge and you don’t have to think about it. Danger—fight or flight.
No wonder you are tired most of the time if you living in continual stress.
Where we get into trouble is when we are under sustained stress, stress generated by our high pressured life-styles. We can stay stuck in stress if we don’t have the tools to know what to do and when to apply them. If we are to reclaim our health (and our life) it is imperative to consciously add a step to the stress reaction cycle instead of letting it run rampant without a check and balance.
11-Minute Meds provides an effective antidote to stress in just eleven minutes per day.
By practicing mindfulness through mediating we learn to slow the stress-response process down and intervene when the threat is not real, in the physical survival sense. I don’t know how the yogis knew about the HPA axis (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal), but they did—and they knew what to do to keep the nervous system healthy, the hormones in check, and how to get a handle on the daily stressors in life. For evidenced-based thinkers like myself, HRV biofeedback is included in my research and accompanies most of the meditations presented throughout this website and my work, in general.
When I understood the benefit of meditation and HRV feedback, I realized how these simple technologies could change my life for the better, and want to share the techniques with others. For centuries, Kundalini meditations were taught in secret to select individuals, and now they are largely open-sourced and available to most everyone.
How we respond to stress will determine, to a large degree, how happy and healthy we are in life and in the lives of others. Stressors aren’t going away anytime soon, actually they seem to be increasing in these uncertain times, and so it is more important than ever to learn how to self-regulate the stress response.
Again, the HRV feedback is included so you can understand the relationship between breath, thought patterns, and your nervous and hormonal systems. I encourage you to get your own HeartMath® smart phone app to get the feedback on what techniques get you out of stress the best. The 11-Minute meditations work with or without HRV feedback, but sometimes it’s helpful to get the visual confirmation of when you’re in the zone of healing (approximately 0.1 Hz for most people).
If you have been under stress for a long period of time, then why not try an 11-Minute Meditation for 40 days and see if you begin to self-regulate the stress response cycle. I would love to hear about your experience, please comment below.