I’ve already written about the stress response and the ways we can turn stress into a more positive force in our lives. I’m sharing some of the key points Susan Blum makes in her article in the Omega. I hope that a slight difference in the tone and language provides more clarity about this topic and reinforces its importance. Nothing can be more beneficial in the post-COVID era than hearing about and learning new ways to regulate stress.
Susan Blum is a functional medicine doctor, member of the Medical Advisory Board for The Dr. Oz Show, and author of the best-selling book The Immune System Recovery Plan.
She explains how to get a handle on your stress reaction through mind-body techniques.
“Your stress system is the physiological response of your body to stress, which includes stress hormones and your autonomic nervous system. This system can cause an imbalance in your immune system and cause or worsen an autoimmune disease.”
“You don’t want your stress system to be either always on high or always on low; you want it to turn on when you need it and then turn off when you don’t.”
We can’t always control the level of stress in our life. However, it’s possible to “learn ways to engage our relaxation system and turn off the hormones and neurotransmitters that are causing the bad health effects of chronic stress. These hormones and neurotransmitters will be there when you need them, but when you don’t, they should remain on standby.”
Engaging our relaxation system regulates stress response
“For a long time, we believed that our autonomic nervous system was automatic. Then, beginning in the 1930s, Hans Selye studied mice and detailed the mechanisms of the stress response, and we found out that the response to stress and the effect on your autonomic nervous system can be influenced by aspects of the environment, including food and living conditions.”
“His studies helped us understand what we already knew about monks living in caves in the Himalayan Mountains who could regulate their body temperature with meditation. They were able to do so because meditation causes blood vessels to relax and dilate; as a result, more blood could flow through their bodies, making them feel warm.”
“The fact that you can actually control body functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and your immune system is a shocking realisation for many people, but it’s true.”
“When practiced regularly, mind-body techniques such as meditation, guided relaxation, and guided imagery can have a powerful positive effect on you and your health.”
“There are two main benefits you will gain by beginning a mind-body practice. First, your body can actually learn to have a different kind of response to a situation so that you don’t turn on the damaging hormones and instead maintain a balanced inner world…”
Increasing the awareness of the form and amount of stress entering your system will help you shape a healthier response. This will help rather than hurt you. Allow you to be less angry, frustrated or overwhelmed and more resilient.
Compassion Focused Therapy is one of several mind-body based techniques that can help you develop an intention of supporting yourself. Turning down the toxic effect of a harsh self-critique and developing a compassionate view of the world and the self in it are remarkably potent ways to mitigate the effects of stress and trauma.
Magic Happens when You Are Taking Care of You
“It turns out that when you begin to learn these mind-body skills something interesting happens: you start feeling better immediately. Why? Because you are doing something for yourself. You are taking care of you (rather than just taking care of those around you). By trying to regulate stress’ impact on you, you are being proactive about your health. This helps you move from a position of hopelessness to one of power and control.
“Many, many studies have shown that self-care is healing in and of itself, even without the added benefit of balancing the autonomic nervous system.” These techniques work because of the shift that happens in the nervous system. The Soothe network (or ‘rest-and-digest’ parasympathetic nervous system) switches on, the only network that can protect and heal. Also “realising that you are the only one who can actively (author’s own addition) “fix” you is a cornerstone of why you will get better.”
“Knowledge is power, and self-knowledge will guide and anchor you as you explore and understand your body and how it may be responding to different stressors around you.” – Susan Blum
© Adapted from The Immune System Recovery Plan: A Doctor’s 4-Step Program to Treat Autoimmune Disease by Susan Blum. Copyright © 2013 by Scribner.