Over the past several months, I have been sharing excerpts from my memoir that I'm writing, titled Digesting Life. The story of my struggle and recovery from an eating disorder is the basis for what led me to create the KARMA Method, the signature coaching and therapeutic method used by Bespoke Wellness Partners. My hope is that some of these stories will resonate with you or make you more aware of where you are on your specific journey with whatever struggles you may be facing. Below is another excerpt on today's topic of stress.
One evening, after I finished working for the family I was nannying for, I walked into the apartment I shared with my boyfriend, Peter. “I am going out today with Shimrit and Ilanna. Girls’ night out,” I said, excitedly. Peter’s facial expression changed and he started to get angry.“What about us spending some time together? All you do now is work and study and I don’t get to see you as much,” he declared. My body was frozen and I was terrified to respond and upset Peter even more. His eyebrows were raised and it seemed that he was waiting for me to change my mind. “I am sure that it will be a quick meal and a drink and I will be back soon,” I said. “You seem to forget that I am the reason that you are here and you show no gratitude,” he replied.
Peter’s voice was louder now and I was even more scared. I could feel my muscles tightening, as fear and anxiety took control of my body. “I am sorry for not checking with you before telling them that I could join them,” I apologized. I walked towards Peter and tried to hug him. He barked, “Get away from me and go enjoy your new friends!” He stormed out of the living room and slammed the bedroom door. I felt a strong urge to binge, but I convinced myself to get out of the apartment as fast as possible. My heart was beating fast and my thoughts were racing as I walked toward the restaurant. I felt guilty for making Peter angry, but I was too scared to go back.
There are a lot of important emotions that I could examine in this tiny scene from my past, but I want to focus on my body’s physical response to the stress I was enduring. It is extremely important to have a basic understanding of our body and what is happening when we feel different emotions because this knowledge can provide us with vital information that can help us gain control and feel happier. In the example above, my interaction with Peter caused me to experience an immense amount of stress and fear. Consequently, my muscles tightened, my heart began racing, and my breath quickened.
When we feel unsafe, our nervous system has a way of activating to respond to threats. This is called the sympathetic nervous system response, which leads to the physiological response: the fight or flight response that gets our heart pounding and our muscles ready for a big fight. Our body also has a system called the parasympathetic nervous system, which is used to calm down and restore peace after a stressful incident. Unfortunately, many of us — consciously or unconsciously —continuously trigger our sympathetic nervous system. This puts our bodies in a constant state of emergency, which, over time, can put our overall health in jeopardy. Constantly triggering the sympathetic nervous system can lead to a range of diseases and illnesses.
So what can you do to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system? Here are four simple ways you can help improve your body’s physical responses to diverse situations.
Tip 1: Lead a healthy lifestyle to begin with.
This is easier said than done, but the truth is, if you eat a balanced diet, get adequate sleep, exercise, and practice mindfulness techniques on a regular basis, your body will be much more equipped to handle stressful situations.
Tip 2: Learn new breathing habits.
The way you breathe might be bad for you. The “proper” way to breath is through your nose, with the diaphragm, relaxed, rhythmically, and silently. A good check for retraining your brain to breathe properly is to follow this pattern: Inhale → Joy → Exhale → Peace
This video is also extremely helpful.
Tip 3: Practice relaxation techniques regularly.
Practice the above breathing techniques, yoga, reiki, get massages, etc. on a regular basis to increase the amount of time you spend in your parasympathetic nervous system, which increases your ability to access the parasympathetic nervous system and choose relaxation over stress when your body is triggered.
Tip 4: Move from a reactive state to a responsive one.
This can be challenging but with consistency, it will become a habit and you will be able to gain more control over situations you are dealing with. All you have to do to calm yourself down is to be aware that you are reacting and be very curious about your experience. For example, if you are yelling at your child, you can pause (as challenging as it might be...) and ask yourself, "Why am I yelling? Is there another way to express what I am trying to convey?” Go ahead and try that today!
Sometimes it takes a trained professional to help you or your child work through their problems— I did not get here on my own! If you’re looking for help, it can never hurt to reach out.
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With much love,