Be Well with Heather Hart


Respond, React, Stress OUT

Life is stressful. Whether you’re aware or not, you’re constantly evaluating your own safety.  You’re programmed to evaluate and respond to threats. If you weren’t, and we were in more primitive times, you might find yourself in the belly of a beast.

To me, in addition to the “normal” host of stresses, one of the strangest situations is being faced with third party threats. Texting. Emails. You’re ex-husband’s lawyer, not your husband. The HR lady, not your boss. It’s an almost unfair way to experience emotion and stress.  Your heart beat quickens, your blood rushes into your muscles, ready to take action, your breathing becomes shallow and you are tense. You experience stress, but you don’t want to have a confrontation with the lady in HR, it’s not her decision.  So, you don’t react without practicing some restraint.  Maybe you stew in your favorite arm chair at home, hearing but not listening to your children tell you about school, perfecting the thousand yard stare and drinking a sixer. Because you would never get to sleep tonight otherwise. What happens to all that stress?  And how do you handle it?

Let it go,  Accept it,  Relax,  Chill,  Calm down

A personal experience comes to mind. A few years ago I was on a celebratory Mother’s Day outing, painting pottery with my kids and my Mom. I decided to reach into my bag, pull out my phone and found a mildly threatening email from a former employer accusing me of, blah blah blah. So, here I am, spending time with my family, enjoying their company and being creative and within seconds, my experience changed.  Just sitting in the art studio having a moment with… my phone.  I was stressed, I was defensive, I wanted to react. But my target was absent and in that moment I didn’t want to affect the otherwise mellow situation my family was experiencing, so I stuffed my stress.  I was well aware of it, of how it changed my thoughts and demeanor.  I then reminded myself of what people say when you’re stressed.

Let it go,  Accept it,  Relax, Chill,  Calm down

To me these things are great to “practice” in moments when you’re not furious because when you are, you are useless and contradictory. These accusations were threatening my character. I have too much pride for that. I remember not sleeping but stewing. I got out of bed at 4 am, I grabbed the nearest kettlebell and sorted myself out. I focused, I used the energy. I was exhausted in about 25 minutes and ready to compose a retort. I became calm, ready to relax and let it go.

You are intended to use the stress, when the epinephrine and cortisol are coursing through your veins.  This happens so you can engage in action to remove yourself from the threat or remove the actual threat.  Primitively, kill or be killed. The changes that stresses produce include a quickening heart rate, increased respiration and increase in forced muscle contraction or voluntary movement.  It also depresses your involuntary functions. This is meant to be temporary but if it isn’t used, it can become chronic and lead to sickness and disease.

Threats these days, thankfully, seldom include getting eaten by large predators, however, they may include any number of things real or perceived.  For instance, your crying baby who’s threatening your sanity, your job loss that has threatened your livelihood, the dingbat texting driver that threatened your fender on the way to work.  Threats can be from the past as well, such as mental and/or physical abuse.  The opportunity to overcome these stressful situations in which you do not (or cannot) lash out at the actual threat is to use it for physical activity.  Frankly it’s the responsible thing to do.  Use the energy that your body has given you and deplete the stress hormones so you don’t develop chronic stress.  Take a hike, run a mile, swing a kettlebell, hit a heavy bag, get in some jumping jacks, push-ups and squats, climb a tree, climb a cliff, ride a bike, hit the gym.  And be sure to pick a responsible activity that you are healthy enough for, and if in doubt ask a professional.  But do it mindfully, do it as relaxed as you possibly can, breathe well, accelerate, decelerate, focus, concentrate, engage.  Reduce the stress and earn a nap. When you’re done you can practice relaxing, letting go and calming down, which will be followed by acceptance, thankfulness and forgiveness.


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