Monday, March 14, 2011

Stress and the Reset Button

Mondays can be stressful. Stress produces adrenaline in the short run and then cortisol. And too much cortisol, over too long a time, is associated with lots of health issues. Science is just beginning to confirm the longer term effects of cortisol on the body and brain.

The hippocampus (also known as the seat of memory) shrinks and you have memory problems. You don't digest your food as efficiently, so you eat more and gain weight. You're more likely to get a bunch of illnesses, including flu, colds, asthma, backaches, diabetes, stomach and colon issues, kidney disease, arthritis, mental illness, depression, skin problems, stroke, cancer, ulcers, heart disease. Oh, and did I mention you feel stressed all the time?

Some of us are so used to feeling stress that we crash when we don't feel it (see Jeff's law firm career). We need stress to get our work done, so we induce the feeling with caffeine and other chemicals when we don't feel it naturally. This of course, makes the problem even worse.

Our bodies are designed to be under stress sometimes, and short term stress can actually enhance our performance. But our bodies need a break. They need to reset, and when they are able to, much of the longer term damage never gets a chance to happen.

What is this reset button? Often called the "relaxation response," it's just a return to the present moment, to the timeless. Breathe, take a walk, meditate, sing, paint, dance, spend time with your dog. Do yoga. Go for a run or a swim. You body needs it and your mind does, too.

Today, try to push the reset button a couple of times. Can you find two minutes to breathe before your next conference call? Can you go for a walk instead of buying something off the lunch cart?

When we get in the habit of coming back to this moment, we begin to see through the prison of our thoughts, of the impossible list of "shoulds" that we bring with us wherever we go. Even if it's only for a moment, we let go.

Sometimes, just to breathe is all that's necessary.


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