Blood pressure up? Not eating well? No time for family & friends? Spouse anxious? Not sleeping? Ah, the things I could tell you about the pressure I’m under right now… but why bother? You’ve got your own stuff to worry about.
Everyone talks about how stressful things are today as if, once upon a magical time, they weren’t. This is life. Still, science has never paid so much attention. Psychology Today describes cortisol, the stress hormone, as ‘public health enemy number one,’ and big pharma would like you to think their drugs are on the front line. However, your body’s been dealing with cortisol for thousands of years. It knows precisely what to do, and does it without any side-effects: it releases endorphins.
Like cortisol, endorphins are hormones. Rather than making you hyper they calm you down. Ideally the two work together to crank you up when you need to be on your toes, then chill you out afterwards. Unfortunately, it rarely works like that. Once it gets going, cortisol hates to quit. As hormones go, it’s a control-freak. That’s why we tend to stay in react mode even after the source of stress has passed. To release endorphins on cue, you have to step in and take charge.
Daily exercise gives you a break and temporarily brings your cortisol levels down, but it doesn’t deliver a finely tuned balance. Vacations, laughter and other diversions are also helpful, but they don’t last and they don’t reach deep into the sources of stress. Alternating levels of stress and relaxation still place unhealthy pressure on your body and mind, making you susceptible to sickness and causing premature aging.
In the end, nothing’s quite as effective as the brain. Subconsciously, it’s involved in all hormonal activity, but you can also focus it consciously on your stress response, bringing the most proactive part of the brain to the front line. Now you’re looking at attention: something that can finely tune your stress balance.
Attention is the principal tool of mindfulness. It keeps you clear-minded and easy-going, less prone to anxiety. This and other mindfulness techniques help you fine-tune your stress balance from moment to moment.
Mindfulness is all the rage today, but there’s nothing new about it. It’s touted as an ancient Buddhist practice but in fact it’s found in every culture. It’s not rocket science. It’s brain science, except that it’s easy. When you see yourself under unnecessary stress, it gives you freedom to stand back and let go.
The only thing is, it takes a bit of effort. Take a class. Practice it. It really will change your life.