Much of the upset we endure in day to day life can be healed with a little understanding of how our thought affects us.
Our minds influence our emotions, which in turn affects our bodies. When we understand how this connection works, it becomes a lot easier to choose how we want to feel, rather than being victim to whatever the day throws at us. I’m going to give you three easy ways that you can stop fear, stress, anxiety or anger from getting in the way of your happiness.
These emotions are typically our bodies’ response to a perceived threat. It’s what’s known as the fight-or-flight response. It would be more accurate to name it the fight-flight-or-freeze response. However, these are the ways that our body adapts to deal with danger. The medical term for this is the sympathetic nervous system.
Historically this response system has served us very well, as our bodies would adapt to face danger. Various physiological changes occur, such as increased blood flow to our arms (for fighting) and legs (for running) and numbing of the pain receptors in our body, and a rush of adrenaline to help us respond faster to whatever threatens us.
When the threat is real, this response system works brilliantly and gives us our best chance of survival. Today, though, rather than the threat being real (something like a predatory animal), it is often imagined (judgement or criticism for example).
Our bodies make no differentiation between real or imagined danger, and our fight-or-flight response kicks in either way. Depending on our perspective, there can be countless perceived threats to us on any given day, and our fight-or-flight response system can easily become hyperactive. This causes prolonged feelings of stress, fear, anxiety, etc., which have a detrimental effect on our minds and our bodies.
Here are three ways that we can quickly and naturally switch off this fight-or-flight response system, and utilise the body’s natural medicine cabinet to return to balance.
1. Cry. For guys especially, this is a very underused natural healer. Crying releases cortisol through the tears. Cortisol is a product of the adrenal gland, and it helps us deal with stress by shutting down unnecessary functions, like reproduction and the immune system to allow the body to direct all energies toward dealing with the stress or threat. An overactive fight-or-flight response produces more cortisol than is healthy for our bodies, and it begins to have a poisonous effect.
Crying not only helps us to shed excess cortisol, but it also helps us to release emotional burdens that we may have been carrying for quite some time. This is why we so often feel lighter and better after a good cry. Crying is a natural process that a lot of guys deny themselves needlessly. Give yourself permission to cry whenever you feel like crying.
2. Sweat. Sweating also releases cortisol and other toxins from our body. Sweating through exercise uses the energy that our bodies have attributed to deal with danger during fight-or-flight, and returns the system to balance. Exercise also releases endorphins into the body as a natural reward. Endorphins are a feel good hormone and effect biological changes in our brain that elevate our mood.
Exercise is also great for quietening the monkey mind. Increased focus on our body allows us to disconnect from our thoughts, and this results in a feeling of peace and calm. As it is our thinking that creates the perceived threats that activate the fight-or-flight, exercise also acts as a preventative medicine.
3. Breathe. Conscious breathing through meditation, mindfulness, or pranayama is hugely beneficial. It activates the response of the parasympathetic nervous system. This system effectively shuts off the fight-or-flight mechanism as it slows our heart rate, increases glandular activity, and relaxes certain muscles. By design, this is the natural state of the body.
Because of the stresses (and perceived threats) of our modern life, we spend a lot of time in fight-or-flight, and so a return to normal brings what meditators call a “grounded” or “centered” feeling.
Conscious breathing anchors us in the present moment and allows us to find space between our thoughts. This–like regular exercise–helps us to avoid unnecessarily entering fight-or-flight mode so often.
Now you know the three easiest ways to elevate your mood and to feel better now. They are all simple and very effective, but none of them will work unless you use them. Consciously decide to feel better more of the time, and watch what happens to your days.
Photo: Flickr/ Lucia Castillo