The body responds in different ways to short-term and long-term stress following a pattern known as the general adaptation syndrome (GAS).
• Phase One – Alarm
This phase is one we are familiar with, a short burst of adrenaline producing stress which initiates the fight or flight response in the body. Adrenaline is released, breathing and heart rate increases and our focus is improved to make clear decisions.
All the attention of the body is on the limbs, to fight or flight.
This response is beneficial to make informed decisions and when the stressful scenario has shifted the relaxation response is initiated.
Right amount of stress is good, fight or flight mode is needed.
What happens if this phase one is repeated and repeated? we may experience churning stomach, palpitation, trembling, diarrhoea, nausea, breathlessness, headaches, tense and tight muscles, stiff neck, clenched jaw, dry mouth.
Women watch out! The more stressed we are, the more fat we store to be ready to fight or flight. Because war is coming… and we are going to starve… this is what the brain thinks. And, more stress means more cortisol production, guess what.! the raw material to produce cortisol is progesterone so we generate a hormonal imbalance.
• Phase Two – Resistance
If the stress continues the body now adjusts further and increases the output from the adrenals in an attempt to maintain the level of productivity.
Because the focus of the body is still on the limbs (fight or flight mode for our brain)
=> central organs are a second priority. So, the focus is not on the heart, not on the lungs, not on the kidneys or liver. Health and immunity are compromised.
During this stage, we may not notice how stressed we feel as we have adjusted to this new constant level. So, the underlying level of stress is higher but we are used to it now.
I believe we are, to some extent, living in this stage right now with Covid. Paying attention to the daily developments, being extra careful when we are out and about, experiencing financial constraints. We cannot do much as the environment and the rules are keeping us in this space. However, awareness can make a difference, and using all the tools we have at home may actually help to keep it a bay.
If the stress continues for a longer term, the body responds with symptoms quite different than the fight-or-flight response.
Because our stress response system fatigues, exhaustion phase comes into play.
• Phase Three – Exhaustion
Exhaustion sets in and the body’s energy is depleted and immunity is low.
Because stress affects almost every system of our body it can manifest in a huge variety of symptoms: fatigue, insomnia, depression, dry skin, headaches, recurrent infections, immunity problems, etc. Long term stress is detrimental to the body.
If we add “rumination” into the mix: a constant sequence of what-ifs and if-only trying to guess a probable future that may never occur, we end up with Chronic stress.
How can we manage it?
The quickest way to stop and stay in the present is to connect with our senses: movement, smell, sound, taste, touch.
Because they only operate in the present. If we STOP and connect with our senses we stop the repetitive unproductive thoughts.
So, let’s use our senses and some tools that we have at home to keep it at bay.
Wrap up warm, go for a walk and breathe: Breath in for 2 breath out for 4.
In and out from the nose. Use the nose not the mouth (the nose has filters) so it does not compromise the immunity.
Inhalation stimulates your sympathetic nervous system, exhalation stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. By changing the way, you breathe you can make one of them more dominant.We want the parasympathetic to relax, so that is why we breathe in for 2 and breathe out for 4.
There are plenty of online Yoga and Pilates classes.
Sweat it out with following an online gym routine.
Smell: we can do so much with essential oils…
Diffuse uplifting oils: Bergamot, Orange, Lemon, Mandarin, Eucalyptus…
Bergamot and coriander is such a nice blend!
Good quality candles with winter Christmassy smells: cinnamon, nutmeg, orange.
Burn Palo Santo wood for clarity and energy cleansing.
If you enjoy baths, add salts and essential oils for further relaxation.
Boost your creams with calming oils, apply on face and breathe from your hands.
Apply calming oils on sole of the feet, in 20 mins is in every cell of the body.
Apply essential oils using rollers and take deep breaths from the wrists.
Useful calming oils are: Lavender, Frankincense, Roman Chamomile, Ylang Ylang, Patchouli, Jasmine, Rose are great to fight the winter blues.
When stress has led to exhaustion the most useful ones are Geranium, Peppermint, Black pepper, vetiver, spikenard, Rosemary and Thyme.
Sit in front of a fire with a cup of tea. The smell of wood is a potent de stressor, is the power of indoor nature to ground and calm emotions.
Listen to your favourite music, to audio books.
Guided meditations from apps like Insight Timer (Free app).
Drink more water, in winter we tend to go for hot drinks only…
Cook a healthy treat and enjoy it.
Supplementation specially with B group of vitamins, vitamin C and ginseng.
These are just few examples and tools that we may have handy at home. Share these techniques with your family, do it together… when one person of the family is stressed the whole family feels it.