Let’s say we had an actual thermometer that could measure our stress level on a scale of 0 – 10. If our thermometer showed a “0-3” reading, we’d be in a state of relaxation, maybe even falling asleep. This range allows the body and mind to rest, digest, and recover from injury. If the thermometer reading was in the high zone of somewhere between “7-10,” we’d either be reacting to immediate harm, or experiencing elevated stress due to a fearful perception of an event. The survival part of our brain and nervous system would be fully engaged, resulting in the fight, flight, or freeze response. If our stress temperature was in the range of say “3.5 to 6.5,” we’d be wide awake, alert, and maybe even a little excited.
That middle range is ideal for rational thought, moral judgment, and creativity. It’s very useful for getting things accomplished and the extra edge we often need to meet a deadline, score well on an exam, and otherwise be our sharpest self.
The lower and middle ranges are where we want to be spending most of our time, but the reality is, we all have stressful days; days when our thermometer spikes into that upper range. Isolated days here and there don’t usually create a problem. But stress does become a problem when it’s not kept in check. If not managed, chronic stress develops which can create all kinds of physical and mental harm.
So take a moment now to take your stress temperature. It’s as simple as checking in with yourself, with your body. Notice which area or areas are especially tense. Now, rate where you feel on a scale of 0-10. (1-3=totally or mostly relaxed, 4-6=moderately stress, 7-10=highly stressed/panicky).
If your stress temperature needs to come down, try a focused deep breathing exercise such as inhaling to a slow count of 4, holding for 4, exhaling for 4, and holding for 4. Repeat that pattern several times, then check in with yourself again and see if that stress rating you started with has changed at all. If it’s decreased, but you’d like it to be even lower just repeat the exercise until you’re feeling comfortable.
With the ever quickening pace of society that modern technology seems to exacerbate, no wonder stress is taking a huge toll on so many. I’ve heard it said, and tend to agree that humans, who have largely lead simpler, agrarian lives for millennia, have not had a chance to develop and adapt to the exponential changes that have occurred within the last half-century or so. That’s one reason I practice and recommend simple pleasures that bring us back to earth. When we engage in gardening, hiking, or basically any other outdoor activity, it brings much needed grounding, stress relieving balance to our otherwise hectic lives. Keep in mind that stress induced energy, is intended to get us out of harm’s way, and it needs to get discharged. Moderate exercise is one of the best things you can do. Additionally, incorporating Mindfulness practices, Meditation, and/or Yoga, are recommended.
I hope you’ve found something helpful in this series that can be applied to your life. Before you head on to the rest of your day, let’s end where we began. Refer back to my first post and try the “Safe Place” exercise I described. Give it a try and let me know how it went for you. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you want additional help with stress management, or any other matter that adversely impacts your life. Wishing you the healthier, happier, stress-less day and life you deserve.