The looming uncertainty caused by Covid-19 is understandably contributing to heightened stress levels. Stress, maybe now more than ever, may be a constant presence in our lives, but there are things that we can do to counteract the negative effects it can have on us. We are offering a weekly blog series with a collection of diverse and effective coping skills and strategies. These are intended to help you manage and reduce stress, improve mental and emotional well-being, and perhaps make you even more effective in achieving your individual goals. Making self care part of your daily routine and your lifestyle is important and it is an investment in yourself and your health. Check back every Wednesday for the newest self care technique and commit to trying one or all of these skills several times to find what works best for you.

Understanding How Stress Affects Us

The Stress Response System is a built in system our bodies use to keep us alive and functioning during a crisis. It is also known as the Fight-Flight- Freeze Response. This system is meant to be a true lifesaver in an emergency; it allows us to respond automatically when events get too intense for us to process as we would typically. The issue that can arise is that sometimes this system kicks in when it isn’t necessary. A dog barking at you on your walk to work is not a threat to your safety, but sometimes your body responds as if you are under threat, even though you aren’t. The trouble is that this misfiring can occur more and more often if your typical stress level is higher than it should be.

However, you can learn how to calm your Stress Response System back down when it gets activated and improve its accuracy by reducing your resting stress level and practicing relaxation techniques.

First, let’s examine the Stress Response System a bit more in order to understand how it works.

The Stress Response System – Your Emergency Autopilot

The Stress Response System is a lot like having an autopilot system that kicks into “Crisis Mode” whenever the plane hits too much turbulence. The system is designed to switch modes automatically whenever it perceives danger and prioritizes safety and survival over all other concerns. It is instinctual. Being able to jump into “Crisis Mode” as needed is vital to the safety of the whole operation on which your body relies, though it has some drawbacks: it takes more fuel to run, it is tough on the engine, and it is hard to turn back off once it has been triggered.

Understanding The Stress Response System

Your body has two main modes during wakefulness: “Alert Mode” and “Crisis Mode”

“Alert Mode”

  • Your body feels relaxed and alert
  • Your Central Nervous System is regulated and calm
  • Your brain is functioning flexibly, you are able to think clearly about the past, the present, and the future and adjust perspective to understand complex problems and think of creative solutions

“Crisis Mode” 

  • You’re thrown into either Fight, Flight, or Freeze response
  • Your Central Nervous System is dysregulated and on high alert which triggers a flood of Adrenaline and Cortisol
  • Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood
  • Cortisol increases sugars in the bloodstream giving you a quick pressure and boosts energy supplies getting you ready to run, fight, or freeze/hide until the danger passes boost of energy and suppresses the immune system, digestive system, reproductive system and growth processes to divert all available energy into short term survival
  • Your brain works differently: your thinking becomes black and white, often over focusing on details and missing the big picture, you are not able to reflect on the past or think through possibilities for the future

The problem is that going into “Crisis Mode” too often due to the stresses of everyday life makes it hard to function day-to- day. It wears your body down and can contribute to many health issues.

How to bring your system back into balance with the Relaxation Response

No one can avoid all stress, and currently we are collectively in a very unusual and unprecedented stress inducing situation.  However, you can learn how to produce the Relaxation Response, a state of deep rest that is the opposite of “Crisis Mode.” The Relaxation Response brings your body and mind back into a state of equilibrium and help you return to “Relaxed and Alert Mode.”

When the Relaxation Response is activated:

  • Your heart rate decreases
  • Your breathing becomes slower and deeper
  • Your blood pressure drops or stabilizes
  • Your muscles relax
  • Your immune system begins to help you heal
  • You experience increased energy and focus
  • Your brain function is improved with increased problem-solving abilities, motivation and productivity

Learn Our Favorite Exercises

To help you learn techniques and skills that can counteract your Stress Response System by initiating your body’s natural Relaxation Response, the therapists at The Catalyst Center have compiled a few of our favorite exercises. We will regularly be releasing self care skills on a weekly basis to help equip you with the best and most effective coping skills. Try each one out and see what resonates with you. Experiment with using these techniques right before bed to help you unwind for sleep, upon waking to start the day off on the right foot, or as you are feeling stressed throughout the day. Check back for the newest skill every Wednesday. Until then, check out the links below for self care and remember to be kind and patient with yourself and others around you, we are all under the same stresses though it may be showing up in different ways for each of us. Take good care!