We have had some incredible storms flow through all day yesterday. Winds whipped up in the afternoon with 60 mph gusts and limbs are strewn all over the yards and streets of our city after being literally ripped from the trees. The skies have been grey and dark, occasionally opening up to sheets of rain causing gushes of water flowing through the streets and home sump pumps. Thunder has boomed and lightening lit up the night sky…
All in all, it has been a turbulent, dark and potentially dangerous time for the past twenty-four hours.
I think many of you would agree that there have been times in our lives when our emotions are as unsettled as a summer storm. Our thoughts grow dark… negative energy creates thunderous activity including outbursts of angry words and floods of tears. Sometimes the eruption of the emotional storm occurs after stress heats up in our lives… stress of health issues… stress of family issues… stress of work issues…
Stress is a catalyst that causes us to move into our Flight or Fight mode of operating. Some people will retreat because they do not like conflict and would prefer to run away and withdraw because they are afraid. Then there are others like myself, who are fighters… we fight because we feel threatened in some way and want to protect ourselves (and possibly others depending on the situation).
Both Flight and Fight responses will get our heart rate pumping, our blood pressure to increase and it uses a great amount of energy… it is all about our Sympathetic Nervous System going into overdrive. As our heart rate increases, panic can set in and our bodies will react by putting us into high alert and high action. This response is in place to help us react to dangerous situations… like getting face-to-face with a Grizzly Bear or a coiled up Rattlesnake.
Unfortunately, with our full lives today, we may find ourselves tapping into our Sympathetic Nervous System more frequently… not to fight off a physical threat but to fight the emotional threats from stress. Stress that can arise from always being “connected” to work, worrying about and wanting to protect our kids long after they reach adulthood, taking care of elderly parents who are living longer. Stress that arises from our own personal changes both physically and mentally as we transition from being a kid to an adult to a middle age person contemplating “what’s next?”.
We all know long periods of rapid heart rates and increased blood pressure cannot be healthy for us so what can we do to counteract the Sympathetic Nervous System and put ourselves into the Parasympathetic Nervous System response to lower our heart rate, decrease our blood pressure and allow our digestive system to work as it should? The following are a few tips that I know will work if we time to add some of these activities in our lives:
- Deep Breathing with Yoga breaths. Inhale slowly through the nose from the belly button and gradually move up to fully expand the lungs. Exhale slowly through the nose moving the breath out from the lungs slowly to the belly button. Concentrating on deep breathing for 10 breaths allows us to focus on how we are breathing… only that… and the urge to run away or fight simply goes away.
- Develop a Structure… something concrete to remind yourself to stop and think… to stop and breathe. My husband and I recently agreed to use a particular word when either of us are starting to feel negative about what the other is saying. The word is actually the name of a fruit that one would never think of in the midst of an argument or tense moment and this particular word will definitely make us take pause and smile.
- Start a 30- day Gratitude Journal. I know I have mentioned this in several earlier posts and that is because IT WORKS! Taking the time to write 3-5 things you are grateful for before you let your head hit the pillow at night will improve your happiness… this is based on honest-to-goodness research.
- Hug someone. Hugs help… they allow us to give out positive, loving energy. When someone hugs me, I immediately feel protected and very safe. There was a professor at a college in Minnesota many years ago who was nicknamed “The Mad Hugger” because he hugged everyone he met on campus. He was ahead of his time even though some may have thought him a bit strange… he knew hugs are good therapy for all that ails us.
Today I hope the rain recedes and the sun breaks through the clouds but if it doesn’t, I am going to breathe deeply… write a few thoughts of Gratitude in my journal… and find someone to HUG today!
Happy Father’s Day to all the amazing Dad’s out there… especially my Father-in-law, my hubby and my son. Virtual hugs to all three of you today since we cannot be together!
What are some other ideas that you would like to share that helps the parasympathetic nervous system kick into gear?