Does this sound familiar? One crisis is barely under control before another issue emerges. You find yourself constantly reacting to problems, barely having time to draw breath in between. Or do you know someone who seems to ricochet between one disaster and another repeatedly?
It’s not that we become crisis magnets, rather we can be primed to overreact and constantly get caught in a stimulus/response cycle. Once switched on, it takes a circuit breaker to stop it.
Why we’re primed to react
This constant stimulus/reaction cycle is like a game of pinball. You’re repeatedly tapping the flipper and recoiling the plunger simultaneously, as the ball ricochets around the playfield. As you get drawn into the game, your nervous system is primed to react automatically to the flashing lights and sounds, desperately flipping the ball back on course.
This is exactly what’s happening when we’re stressed and become hypervigilant, constantly on the lookout for danger (aka flight or fight). Being hardwired to survive means that once triggered, it’s not safe to relax. Whether we’re playing a game or have more on our to-do list than time to fulfill it, these non-life or death triggers suck us into the stimulus/response cycle. Until something stops us in our tracks or we develop awareness, it’s hard to pull ourselves out and reset.
Breaking the cycle
If you’re always running, feeling overwhelmed or perpetually beset by crises, you probably aren’t aware that you’ve become primed to overreact. You might feel like a victim of circumstance — a loved one gets sick, the car breaks down, the roof springs a leak and wrecks the newly laid carpet. While we can’t control everything that happens in life, we can change our reaction.
To stop this automatic over-response:
- take a moment to pause
- become aware of your breath
- slow it down
- exhale a few beats longer than you breath in.
Why changing our breath is a potent circuit breaker
We are primitive creatures, primed for survival. [link biology of stress post] The stress response comes from the sympathetic nervous system. We become hypervigilant, looking for danger and that changes a variety of subconscious bodily responses, including how we breathe. When the sympathetic nervous system dominates, we have a faster, shallow breathing pattern, where our inhalation is longer than our exhalation.
When we consciously flip this, such as by doing Aviva’s ‘quickie’, we can switch off the stress and rebalance the nervous system.
Doing this once might give us a moment of relief and a chance to gain perspective on the situation, but doing this breathing exercise regularly will break the pattern for longer.
Start and end your day with a quickie, do it before grabbing a tea or coffee, make “I am, at peace” your mantra!
Tips to make your nervous system sigh with relief
Our body needs to eat nutritious food, drink plenty of water and sleep for at least 6 hours a night to switch off the stress response cycle.
The quickie is free, portable and always with you, here are some other ways to help your nervous system sigh with relief.
- A relaxation massage, facial or foot rub
- Listen to music that relaxes or makes you happy
- A long soak in the bath
- Eating slowly without multi-tasking (not looking at screens or working)
- Listening to a guided relaxation
- Walk/spend time in nature
- Cultivate curiosity
- Drinking relaxing herbal teas (like chamomile or lemon balm) rather than caffeine
Invest in a naturopathic consultation
Sometimes consulting an expert is the wisest investment.
By taking the first step to book the session, you’ve committed to change simply by taking time for yourself.
During and after the consultation there’s an opportunity to debrief and reflect. An experienced practitioner can enhance this process, by feeding back what you say. Frequently I’ve heard clients utter ‘my job is killing me’ or ‘I’ll die if…(minor inconvenience) happens’. Do you really mean that? How does the psyche react to this script?
Prescribing individualised herbs can support the nervous system and any other places the body is struggling. The right herbs, at the dose you need right now can accelerate the relaxation process and healing.
Replenish the nutrients that have been used up at a higher rate than usual due to stress. Once again, an experienced practitioner can target the right nutrients at the right dose, for a cost and therapeutically effective treatment.
Negotiate lifestyle tweaks. For example, it’s ok to say, ‘I don’t think I can do x at the moment, but I can do y’. As a practitioner, I want to help make any changes for you as easy as possible. I’m here to support you to successfully take care of your health.
If you’d like to see more articles like this, sign up for the free newsletter.