Learning the art of chill

The first thing to remember is that our emotional reaction to events initiates the stress response. We need to make a distinction between events and our experience of them.”

The key to lowering stress, is to train ourselves to respond to stressful circumstances without triggering the alarm system every time. What follows are some of the building blocks for a more stress-resilient body. 

The best way to quiet the body-mind’s stress response, and to support the recovery process is to relax and rest as deeply as you can. 
Finding ways to improve sleep quality is also vital. It is crazy how many of us spend money on cars and bikes, holidays and not beds. Your bed should feel better than the best hotel in the world!

Embrace the siesta. I spent the first few years living in Euope hating the siesta, it drove me insane when everything shut. Now I love it, everyone could do with a siesta, even if it is just 10 minutes of YOU time during your lunch break.

What does rest accomplish? It charges up the parasympathetic “rest-and-digest” system (the antithesis of the sympathetic “fight-or-flight” system), which powers the body’s reparative and digestive activities.

When deep rest is in short supply, you can still support parasympathetic activity by taking frequent short breaks, ideally every 90 to 120 minutes.I find the students in my courses lose concentration and start to fidget after 90 minutes. A water, fresh air and a stretch can make the world of difference. 

A well-fed body is a resilient body — far better equipped to handle stress and to recover from hormonal floods.

Keeping sugar and flour to a minimum while eating plenty of healthy fats and good protein (grass-fed meats, fish, legumes, nuts) will help keep blood sugar on an even keel. This supports good energy, mental clarity and stable mood — all of which lead to more grace under pressure.

The Low GI Mediterranean diet, which includes plenty of legumes, greens and fish promotes a proper balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and soothes intestinal inflammation. Stress directly affects the gut.

As for stress-busting supplements, many integrative doctors recommend taking a good-quality fish oil as well as a B-vitamin complex, since stress tends to deplete B-vitamin levels. Both have shown measurable effects in treating depression, another common byproduct of chronic stress.

Studies show that mindfulness meditation, becoming a calm observer of your own thoughts and emotions, stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. 

Meditation can also reduce frantic neurological activity in the amygdala, the alarm bell of the brain. Self-reflection (a fairly advanced activity, as far as brains are concerned) shifts activity to the neocortex, or “executive center.”

When the brain starts to rely more on the neocortex and less on the amygdala, it begins to strengthen new neural pathways that incline the brain away from reactivity and toward calmer, more constructive responses.

We all need some kind of physical movement to stay stress-resilient, whether it’s walking, running, biking, doing yoga or water sports. The stress response is inextricably connected to exercise — after all, it’s preparing us to run fast or fight hard — so vigorous exercise helps to bring down adrenaline levels, while gentler exertion is good for lowering cortisol. Exercise also produces positive mood elevators (endorphins and serotonin) and breaks down cortisol in the bloodstream.

In her book 
Positivity (Three Rivers Press, 2009), positive psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson, PhD, notes that for individuals to flourish, they need a “positivity ratio” of three positive experiences to each negative one. 

Studies show that amygdala-based cell receptors for oxytocin (an amygdala-calming hormone) increase in number when we foster feelings of compassion.

It seems that what we are really built to do is to treat ourselves and others well — not flee from wild animals  all day long and relax a little more and stop being so serious. My advice is to kick back, reflect and think about your real priorities. Slow down, smell the roses and always remember to choose life!