WHAT IS STRESS?
Stress is the response to a real (or imagined) threat or challenge. One’s stress response involves body, mind, emotions and thoughts.
When experiencing stress, the brain secretes hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which supports the management of short-term emergencies and can even boost memorization.
The ability to respond to stressful or threatening situations is critical for survival; However, prolonged exposure to stress has a toxic effect on the brain and body.
WHAT DOES STRESS DO TO THE BRAIN AND BODY?
Mild stress enhances attention and memory formation. Without it we’d never learn new things, get motivated, achieve goals or meet deadlines. Some stress is actually good.
Excessive or chronic stress literally changes brain chemistry. Chronic stress can lead us to create traumatic memories, result in the development of mood and anxiety disorders, and hijack the brain’s ability to focus, comprehend, and learn, thus affecting professional performance. Chronic stress can even increase the risk of dementia.
It has been suggested that stress also triggers inflammation throughout the body, a known instigator of heart disease, asthma, eczema, psoriasis, arthritis, and IBS just to name a few.
SO HOW DOES ONE BUILD THEIR RESILIENCE TO STRESS?
Learning to self-regulate is key. People who learn to manage their emotions can recover from stressful events more quickly. The ability to handle and manage stressful events quiets the brain’s stress circuitry, once again opening up the mind’s capacity to focus and think, it relaxes the body and generally returns us to a state of homeostasis, in other words stability.
With this in mind, I developed the CALMTMMethod as a way to help clients more rapidly reset their stress response via brain and body in order to build resilience.
The CALM acronym stands for connect, acknowledge, learn, and meditate.
Connect with family and/or friends. Social connection is a primary need and can buffer the negative effects of stress by releasing positive neurochemicals that block the action of the stress hormone cortisol. During high-stress events, it generally takes 30 minutes after the event for the body to reabsorb and repair cells damaged in the stress response. Recharge by reconnecting.
Acknowledge what you are feeling. Take a few seconds to pinpoint what is bothering you, label it, take a deep breath, and choose HOW you wish to handle it. When we push through or suppress our feelings, we can make things worse. We don’t always have control over what life hands us, but we do have control over HOW we handle situations. You cannot address an issue or regulate your emotions unless you know what it is that is bothering you.
Learn about your triggers. If you know what triggers you, you can avoid those triggers, or better yet have a plan in place to deal with them. For example, feelings of overwhelm can be reduced by identifying one action you can take no matter how small it might seem, and complete it. When done, identify three more, take action, and repeat. Doing this you move from impasse into action, overriding feelings of overwhelm. Don’t forget to acknowledge yourself for accomplishing those steps along the way -- every little win adds up creating change.
Meditate and exercise regularly. The practice of inward-focused thought, and deep breathing, has been shown to reduce cardiovascular disease risk factors such as high blood pressure. Anyone can learn to meditate, and there are myriad ways of going about it. Just 5 minutes of quiet reflection, and focused breathing can make an impactful difference.
If meditation doesn't work for you, exercise is a great way to disappear stress, as it also lowers your blood pressure and strengthens your heart muscle. Your exercise routine doesn’t need to be intense, just get your heart rate up for 20 min at least three times a week.
The CALM Method can also be adapted for children, teaching them the practice of self-regulation.
As with any behavior change, the more you practice the quicker your brain embeds it, and new habits become second nature over time.