Science is now better able to explain how accumulated mental and emotional stress, also called allostatic load, causes damage to our cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, hormonal and immune systems, among others. The stress hormones affect our sleep-wake cycle, change our energy production pathways, overwork our detox organs and fuel the fires of inflammation that rapidly or slowly burn away at our physiological reserve. When this stress is continuous it usually happens that, one day ‘out of the blue’, we experience a fall from vitality. But is it the taxi driver or our reaction to him that is the origin of the sin? Here is where both Eastern and Western healing traditions speak with a united voice - more important than the amount of stress we experience, is our response to it. In fact, in our efforts to try and evade stress we invariably create further stress!
Sure, one should focus on reducing unnecessary stressors from life, but how do we manage the unavoidable stress? I liken the process to managing a pent-up pressure cooker - by opening the valve.
Our valves are our coping mechanisms. These are skills, disciplines, tools and habits we cultivate and engage with that allow us to ‘tremor off’ the accumulated stressors of the day and return back to our space of balance.
Try these for starters:
- Move your body and spend time in nature. These are both multi-beneficial ways to help rid your body of the effects of stress.
- Be more knowledgeable. Learn as much about the stressors in your life, be it your health, your rights or your belief systems, and be empowered to take action to change your life. Knowledge reduces the fear of the unknown and the misunderstood - with knowledge comes empowerment.
- Cultivate a spiritual life. Spirituality, a stronger sense of self and a healthy social support network are also great coping mechanisms.
- Add reflective practices. Meditation, keeping a journal, expressing creatively through painting, drawing or writing are all beneficial.