Understanding the mechanics of stress gives you the advantage of being more aware of and sensitive to your own level of stress and knowing when and how to take proactive steps. This increased awareness also helps you to better care for your family, friends and colleagues. Here are a few facts that many people are unaware of:
Fact #1 – Your body doesn’t care if it’s a big stress or a little one
The human body doesn’t make a difference between a BIG stress or a little one. Regardless of the significance, stress affects the body in predictable ways. A typical stress reaction, which most of us experience many times each day, begins with a cascade of 1,400 biochemical events in your body. If these reactions are left unchecked we age prematurely, our cognitive function is impaired, our energy is drained, and we are robbed of our effectiveness and clarity.
Fact #2 – Stress can make smart people do stupid things
Stress causes what brain researchers call “cortical inhibition.” The phenomenon of cortical inhibition helps to explain why smart people do dumb things. Simply said, stress inhibits a small part of your brain and you can’t function at your best. When we are in coherence – a state where we are cognitively sharp, emotionally calm, and we feel and think with enhanced clarity – the brain, heart and nervous system are working in harmony. This state of coherence facilitates our cognitive functioning – we are actually operating at peak performance mentally, emotionally and physically.
Fact #3 – People can become oblivious to their stress
We can be physiologically experiencing stress but be mentally numb to it because we’ve become so used to it. Some have become so adapted to the daily pressures, irritations and annoyances of life that it starts to seem normal. Yet the small stresses accumulate quickly and we may not realize how much they’re impairing our mental and emotional clarity and our overall health until it shows up as a bad decision, an overreaction or an unwanted diagnosis at the doctor’s office.
Fact #4 – We can control how we respond to stress
We don’t need to be victims to our own emotions, thoughts and attitudes. We can control how we respond to stress and we can become more sensitive to stressful situations and how they are affecting us before it manifests as a physical, mental or emotional complaint. There are simple, scientifically validated solutions to stress that empower people to rewire their own stress response.
60% to 80% of primary care doctor visits are related to stress, yet only 3% of patients receive stress management help.
Fact #5 – The best strategy is to handle stress in the moment
The best way to manage stress is to deal with it the very moment you feel it come up. Millions of North Americans unsuccessfully use the ‘binge-and-purge’ approach when it comes to stress. They stress out all day, believing that they can wait until later to recover when they go to an evening yoga class, go to the gym or chill out when they take the weekend off. Unfortunately, when we put off going for our own inner balance our bodies have already activated the stress response and it’s our health that suffers.
If you’re interested to learn more about how you can effectively manage and reduce stress in your own life, you might want to have a look at my page about HeartMath or check out my upcoming HeartMath workshop here.
Do you remember how you used to play hide and seek by putting your hands in front of your own eyes? I know, it has been a long time ago, but you might still remember this. Or maybe you’ve seen your own children apply the magic of this very cute version of playing hide and seek. Our idea was very simple – We believed that what we couldn’t see didn’t exist and we were therefore convinced that people wouldn’t be able to find us. I really love to see the way little children use the power of imagination.
What have we learned?
But I have to confess something to you now. Something that might come across as a little bold or maybe even a bit unnerving – Most of us are still playing this same ‘magical’ version of hide and seek today when it comes down to our feelings and emotions. We (kind of) believe that by ignoring what we feel inside, it will evaporate in some way. And yes, life can sometimes be too overwhelming to face head-on. That’s why our society is addicted to numbing and suppressing their feelings – think of drinking, over-eating, smoking, shopping, endless travelling or constant socializing etc. We’re looking for external stimuli to keep ignoring what we really feel deep down inside. It’s like rearranging the furniture without really cleaning the room.
I wrote “kind of believe”, because deep down inside we intuitively know that ‘rearranging the furniture’ is not a solid and permanent solution, and this is exactly where the stress starts creeping in. It doesn’t mean that we’re stupid or slow learners – we are being raised in a world that rewards us for being intellectually smart (using our head) and not for applying our heart’s wisdom and intuition.
Stress develops when the mind, the nervous system and the heart don’t communicate in an efficient and balanced way. More than 70% of the North Americans regularly experience psychological and physical symptoms caused by stress. The picture below shows you how stress can affect our bodies.
Most stress-reduction initiatives often miss the essential point. We try to relieve the after-effects of stress rather than remove the cause of the stress itself. We start jogging, we chant a mantra, we read self help books, we sign up for workshops, we have our minerals balanced, we pray, we participate in a retreat, we relive past lives and so on. We keep searching but we don’t understand the problem, and that’s why we can’t find the answer. Our rationalizing mind rather likes to keep the true causes of our emotions out of awareness and it uses the mechanism of projection to do this. It blames events or other people for causing a feeling and views itself as an innocent victim of the external causes – “he got me upset” or “they made me angry.”
Wisdom of the heart
When you take a closer look at the most ancient and respected wisdom of various cultures, but also at modern science, we can conclude that our heart is the most powerful centre from where we can access and regulate our emotions and feelings. If you are interested to learn more this subject, you might want to visit my page about the scientific research by the Institute of HeartMath.
I used to be the person who always relied on my intellectual capacity. I was trained to go through life this way, until life decided to throw me some curveballs. In 2010 I found myself in deep pain and severely stressed after the passing of my dad, my brother, my mom and a dear ski-buddy. I was a broken man who didn’t know how to heal himself.
One night, I was standing outside in the darkness. I felt very down and looked up at the sky and couldn’t ignore that it was a gorgeous sky while gazing at the billions of stars over my head. Despite all of my misery, I noticed that the universe looked so amazing and so mysterious. Whoever created this unfathomable wonder, my appreciation was limitless. Suddenly, my heart started speaking: “Do I have a choice?” wanted it to know. I spoke those words out loud without even realizing it. But I wasn’t prepared for an answer, and certainly not for an answer like this: “Of course do you have a choice – accept and try to embrace the pain that you’re feeling right now”. I didn’t see myself as a spiritual person really, and this answer that seemed to come out of nowhere took me completely off guard. For the reason that this was such an extraordinary experience, I took this advice very serious.
In the next couple of days, this remarkable answer kept repeating itself in my head and I was pondering how to ‘accept and embrace’ but no solution was being offered this time. Then I decided to let it go because ‘this trying’ made me feel even more desperate. But the moment I let it all go, was also the moment that I felt a growing connection with my heart, and suddenly I had no trouble accepting the pain I was feeling. I even began to understand that it was there for a reason! Maybe because it felt all just too intense, I began to get a very clear insight: “There must be a higher purpose for this to happen to me” I thought. That’s when I was able to embrace the pain and all the emotions.
But then something beautiful happened… I saw a gorgeous bright light and I felt an infinite love deep down inside of me and I realized: “I am Love! These dark events in my life are my gift and they are here to lift me higher than ever before. This is my healing!” I could barely believe that this was happing to me. It felt like a miracle had just happened. Unconsciously I had been playing hide and seek by covering my eyes with my hands, but by going to my heart, my hands were being taken from my eyes, and the view couldn’t be any more magnificent.
That’s how it all started – these so called ‘sad events’ were my teacher and showed me how to make the incredible journey from my head to my heart – a very fulfilling one. And once you’re there, there’s no way of ever going back: No one and no event can ever take this knowing away from me. I now inspire and help others to make that same journey, which seems so incredibly hard because we believe that it takes suffering first, or it takes many years of searching outside of yourself. But I have a message for you: “It doesn’t have to be that way!” All that you will ever need already lies inside, patiently waiting to be discovered. The most ancient civilizations already knew how to tap into this wisdom, and today’s science confirms it. Are you ready to embrace the power and love that lies inside of you?
In my next blog post I will share another story with you about my interaction with my grandma. It’s about the stuff that we believe.
I inspire and train individuals and organizations by applying the wisdom, scientific tools and techniques of accessing the power of our hearts. Feel free to visit dirkterpstra.com, follow me on Facebook, Twitter or share this story with your friends. I would love to hear from you.