The response to acute stress is normal. It is necessary. It keeps us alive. That is its job. Stress is when your brain and body are knocked out of balance. The stress response is what your body does innately to bring it back to order.
Acute stress doesn’t last. Something triggers the stress response. Then the stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released into the blood stream. Blood is shunted to our limbs and our heart rate increases to help us get the heck out of dodge. And then when the stressor or danger is no longer present, our heart rate slows, blood is returned to our “non-essential” digestive and reproductive organs and our blood chemistry returns to normal, we come into balance and we feel relaxed again.
That is a normal response to stress. The problem occurs when stress becomes chronic. I know this all too well as a result of the pressure I have put on myself for the majority of my life, playing the “I gotta get it right” game.
Chronic stress is when we can’t turn the stress response off. We can live in this chronic stress mode for quite a long period of time until our bodies can’t cope any more and it affects the way our systems function. Living in emergency mode (chronic stress) for an extended period of time leads to disease. Period. The hormones of stress push the genetic buttons that create disease.
I didn’t even know I was living with chronic stress. It is that sneaky. It flies just under the radar. And I wasn’t listening to all the symptoms my body was giving me, such as fatigue, pain, tension, digestive and hormonal issues, skin cancer…
But I don’t want to stay focused on what chronic stress is. I want to focus on what to do to come back into balance.
There are a few antidotes to stress but the one that has meant the most to me is love and connection.
Feeling stressed is a very lonely experience, even if you are surrounded by people. When you are stressed, you are in your own little world, very self focused because you are, after all, in survival mode. I felt very alone at times and that it was all up to me to take care of and no one would understand what I was feeling.
That feeling of separation is an ego construct. The stressed state is not the truth of who you are. It is the ego’s way of having you feel separate, of feeling alone. It feels very very real but it isn’t true. When you feel stressed, you don’t tend to socialize or connect with people as much and it feels lonely.
What I have come to know is that me reaching out and connecting, me getting into my heart and asking what would love do has been my way out of the stress forest. It changed my blood chemistry from stress to bonding. Oxytocin is released into the blood stream during a hug and when a mother breast feeds. It is a bonding hormone that makes you feel good. It counters the affects of the stress hormones. It is a great example of how love and connection are an antidote.
When I am connecting with others at a heart level, I feel relaxed and really good. Life flows better and is way more enjoyable. It is the opposite of the separation I feel with the fear/stress response.
I had a realization last week that I talked to my husband about. We are both really good at giving each other space to work through whatever is going on for us. We take full responsibility for how we are feeling and we have faith in each other to do what we need to in order to move through things. We don’t need to save one another. What I realized though is that I feel very alone when I do that as I tend to isolate myself. So I told him that I would love us to really stay connected and communicate even more when each of us is moving through something. We can still do what we need to on our own and stay connected at the same time. It will require some practice as isolation is quite an ingrained pattern of mine.
So the next time you feel separate or alone, your system is likely stressed and instead of focusing on reducing stress, put your attention on love and connection. What you put your attention on grows. Reach out to family or friends. Look people in the eye and smile when you see them walking down the street or in line at the grocery store. Make a stranger’s day by asking them how their day is going. Or maybe the connection that is needed is with yourself, giving yourself some love and connecting with what you need to feel good. There is no need to be an island unto yourself.
Love and connection is how you shift from survival stress mode into thriving and enjoyment. Who’s day can you make today?