One-Minute Stress Busters – How to quickly disengage the fight-flight system

A little bit of stress can be good for you – it helps you focus, get jobs done, multitask, stay organised, and so on. It can be similar to being in your “zone” of achievement – you feel accomplished, you get the rush of “happy hormones” (serotonin and dopamine), and if you post it up on Facebook, you get friends and family telling you how awesome you are to be able to do all those things. That “busy-ness” trap.

But it doesn’t take much for the busy-ness to become a self-perpetuating cycle that can leave you feeling overwhelmed. And it is hard to tell when those little bits of stress become stress overload, and chronic stress. Chronic stress fills your body with “stress hormones” of cortisol and adrenaline, which in turn has effects on our sleep, mood regulation, hormonal regulation, digestion, immune system, mental function, mental health… every body system is affected by chronic stress.

Let’s be honest – it didn’t take your body a short period of time to get into that chronic fight-flight state of being. Maybe you can’t even remember when your body was ever not stressed (here is a hint – if you find you cannot sit down to “rest” for a few minutes without feeling guilty, stress has been a long-time companion).

It can take some time to re-train your mind, body and emotions to shift from continuous fight-flight states to more rest-and-digest states, and here is a list of “1-minute Stress Busters” to help you get started:

 

  1. Breath
    Yes, I know this is a no-brainer, but because we don’t tend to give thought to our breathing, it is very easy for our body to fall into a permanent state of shallow-breathing. Shallow-breathing is a stress response. Consciously controlling your breathing, in particular, elongating your exhalations, sparks your parasympathetic nervous system, which slows down your heart rate.
    My favourite breathing sequence is 6-2-4 = inhale for 4 counts, hold for 2 counts, exhale for 6 counts. See how few you can do in 1 minute.
  2. Visualise
    While visualising giving that annoying person the bird is tempting, visualising calm scenery is probably better for your nervous system. It’s why there is a market for guided relaxation recordings. So go to your happy place in your mind, with or without the help of a guided relaxation recording. Even better if you have a photo of a calm scenery you can use, and best if its a photo of a place you have been to which can trigger your own good, happy, calm memories.
  3. Savour
    Like visualising, savouring engages the imagination, but is geared towards pleasure. There are three forms of savouring – anticipatory savouring, which means looking forward and imagining a pleasurable experience to come; savouring moment, which means fully savouring and engaging in the pleasurable moment and making it last as long as possible (a minute is a lovely long time in this activity!); and reminiscing savouring, meaning looking backwards and enjoying the memory recall of a pleasurable activity.
  4. Cross your Midline
    This refers to any physical activity that allows your limbs to cross the middle of your body repetitively, which engages large areas of both brain hemispheres simultaneously. This helps you process when you are feeling overwhelmed by too much information, emotion or stress. Cross-crawl activities (see here for an example), the Butterfly Hug which was developed for desensitisation in trauma processing (video), some yoga poses, even simply crossing your arms or legs across your body can help reduce the experience of physical pain.
  5. Hugging
    Hugging involves touch and relating with others, which can stimulate a flood of dopamine, relieving stress. Even hugging yourself can relieve stress, as it is part of self-compassion, and the activity crosses your midline.
  6. Yoga poses
    Some yoga poses are specifically aimed at relaxing and calming the mind and body, others help to stretch and release the muscles, some are activities to cross your midline – each can be done for a minute to help relieve stress. The cat-cow pose, downward dog, child’s pose, and the corpse pose to name a few.
  7. Noticing
    This is when you engage each of your senses systematically – sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing. For example, setting yourself a task to see 3 red items, smell 3 scents, taste 3 flavours, touch 3 different textures, hear 3 different sounds. This helps your brain disengage from mental stress (worrying, panic thoughts, etc).
  8. Sensory immersion
    Following on from above, you can also select just one sense to immerse yourself in for one full minute. For example, placing an essential oil on a tissue or handkerchief, and inhaling deeply for a minute. Or peeling an orange and inhaling the essential oils released. Or squeezing a wedge of lemon into a glass of water (or gin, maybe?) and noticing the scent. Holding a piece of ice in your hand for as long as possible.
  9. Warming your hands
    Similar to sensory immersion above, warming your fingers and hands can relieve stress through noticing the sensation of heat. Biologically, it can help shift the fight-flight state to the rest-and-digest state. When we are in the fight-flight state, blood goes to the large muscles of our body, prepping us to run or fight. By reversing the blood-flow to our hands and fingertips, we engage the parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) nervous system. Combine this with a hot drink that is nourishing, and we can build on the calm.
  10. Eat (or drink) chocolate
    A Johns Hopkins University study found that the taste of sweetness on your tongue causes a surge of feel-good endorphins. Also, dark chocolate contains compounds called flavonoids that also affect mood – according to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, cocoa flavonoids improved both mental acuity and attitude. Dark chocolate also contain high amounts of magnesium, a mineral essential for managing stress. Additionally, in a 2009 study by the American Chemical Society, eating a mere 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate daily lowered stress hormone levels (more info on chocolate). The key is to limit yourself to just a few bites, since the sugar in chocolate can cause a crash later, plus binging can cause a range of other issues too. And if you drink a hot chocolate, you combine it with strategy number 9 above.
  11. Pet an animal
    There is a reason why animal-assisted therapy is a growing modality for helping medical and behavioural issues in children, educational and motivational purposes in aged care, prisons and mental institutions, to helping war veterans recover from PTSD. According to Wilson’s (1984) biophilia hypothesis, our attachment to and interest in animals stems from the strong possibility that human survival was partly dependent on signals from animals in the environment indicating safety or threat. The biophilia hypothesis suggests that now, if we see animals at rest or in a peaceful state, this may signal to us safety, security and feelings of well-being which in turn may trigger a state where personal change and healing are possible. So, have a good cuddle-fest with your furbaby to trigger the rest-digest (and heal) state.
  12. Pick flowers
    This follows on from the biophilia hypothesis above. The term “biophilia” means “love of life or living systems”, so not just animals, but also plants and trees, etc. It explains why we keep plants and flowers in and around our homes. Very often, flowers also indicate potential for food later. Most fruits start their development as flowers. For our ancestors, it was crucial to spot, detect and remember the plants that would later provide nutrition. So get out into your garden and pick a bunch of flowers and foliage – gathering greens for food is a biological instinct, signaling eating, nourishment, comfort and rest.
  13. Brain dump
    Set a timer for 1 minute, and write down on a paper what you are feeling at the moment, or all the stuff running through your head in that moment. Then ritually discard that paper – whether burning, burying or shredding. This is different to writing out a to-do list, in that this one is aimed at cathartic relief of emotional stress around a person or situation.
  14. Declutter
    You don’t have to declutter the whole house or even a room, so don’t panic! What you can declutter in a minute is your recent photos on your phone (just today I deleted 100 selfies and 10 videos my 4-year-old took this morning!), your email inbox, newsletters you are subscribed to, your Facebook pages or friends list, your working desk… letting go of “stuff”, even non-physical stuff, helps calm the overwhelm.
  15. Do something else
    I like this one especially when I get triggered by something my husband says and start engaging in an argument. Embarrassingly, it started with our 4 year-old daughter telling either of us to go do something else, but I’m glad I’m able to recognise and accept wisdom no matter how young the teacher! So now when I get triggered (and was already stressed anyway), I either tell hubby to go do something else instead of continuing to say stuff that seems to trigger me more, or I take myself away when I realise I’m yelling.
  16. Step outside of the environment
    Like doing something else, this gets you out of the immediate, stressful moment. By physically removing yourself, and stepping into a calmer environment, you can calm your sympathetic nervous system down. Best is if you have your own sacred space to go to where you have spent time there cultivating calm. Example, your meditation space, your garden, your reading or knitting nook; my favourite sacred space is of course my clinic – instant calm whenever I step into this space.
  17. Music
    Music is another good one to shift the environment, and also engages the hearing sense. So pop on your favourite stress-relieving music – a calming piano piece, or a rousing dancing tune – whichever works for you to help shift your internal state.
  18. Grounding in dirt
    In the esoteric world, talk about “grounding your energies” is a common term, with recommendations to go out in Nature and connect with Mother Earth, getting more negative ions into your body and removing positive ions (negative ions are what is available in nature spaces – oceans, beaches, forests – and refers to the charge; positive ions are linked with stress and electronics). However, there is scientific research that shows soil bacteria present in dirt, Mycobacterium vaccae, helps increase serotonin levels, which in turn reduces stress, and supports the immune system. So grounding is literally getting into fresh dirt, so get out into your garden and stick your feet and hands into fresh soil for a minute for some lovely M. vaccae!
  19. Magnesium
    Magnesium is a mineral that helps with all cellular function in the body, hormonal and neurotransmitter regulation, uptake of other minerals, muscle repair and relaxation, stress relief, sleep support, and so much more (if you are new to magnesium, have a read of this). With modern-day living and all the stressors, plus magnesium-deficiency in soil and plants with modern farming practices, it is safe to say we can all benefit from oral or topical supplementation of magnesium! So rub it on, spray it on, or roll it on – it won’t take more than a minute! (Here is the link to my magnesium products).
  20. Let that jaw drop
    Relaxing your tongue and jaw sends a message to your brain stem and limbic system to turn off the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Simply let your tongue go limp in your mouth, and then open your mouth slightly, which will instantly loosen up your jaw. These exercises help bring our parasympathetic nervous system online, which tells our bodies to rest and restore.
  21. Smile
    It is hard to smile when we are stressed out, yet research tells us smiling reduces stress and helps the heart. When I read that, I think of a grinning rictus and hear the words “fake it till you make it”…
    Seriously though, a genuine smile, whether at a stranger or a loved one, connects, and that connection helps us feel a little less alone in our stress. A “sad smile”, a little Mona Lisa-type smile, or a wide Julia Roberts smile – each can bring connection, and connection helps calm our nervous system.
  22. Humour
    Anecdotally and intuitively, we know humour relieves stress. Gallows humour and black comedy shows the interplay of adverse situations, stress, and humour and laughter as stress relief. The psychological research is inconclusive, but I feel it is when humour and laughter is used as a way to connect, and helps the sense that we are in the situation together, do they help relieve stress. We women know this – when we complain about our husband or children, we don’t want a solution, we just want to be heard and seen, and somehow what we are complaining about turns into a source of humour rather than stress (like the time my husband suggested I was ignoring my family with my hobby of reading. I was about ready to hit him at the time, but it started becoming funny after telling it to others a couple of times).

So there you go, a list of 1-minute strategies we can use to relief stress, and shut down that fight-flight instinct. These are small steps to help alleviate chronic stress, but how effective they are depends on how stressed we have been for how long. The more stressed we are, the harder it is to see the humour in any situation, so we may need more than a reminder list like this. Chronic stress, where fight-flight is a dominant response to any trigger, big or small, benefits from additional help. So seeing a therapist will help with deep-set chronic stress, even just for having another person mirror what neurological and physiological calm looks like.

If you’d like to discuss with me whether psychospiritual counselling will help you with working through chronic stress, contact me through the website or via my Facebook page.

7 Strategies to Support Our Mind, Body, Heart and Soul through a Spiritual Shift

As human beings on a spiritual journey, we are constantly going to experience ups and downs. In recent years, I started viewing it as if we are going through continuous expansion – going up, up, up but occasionally we hit an upper limit, and this is where you want to smash through that upper limit. The smashing through can be painful at the time, and can leave us questioning what it’s all about, what are we doing here, is what we have been focusing on truly worth it, and on and on.

 

For some of us, it is a big crisis when you are new to having your spiritual awakening and shifting from Unconscious to Conscious. It is a huge wake-up call, and it shakes you up. For some of us who have been on the journey longer, the shake-up is not as big. Nevertheless, it is a shakeup and it can leave us questioning ourselves.

 

So, these are the seven things I come back to whenever I feel myself hitting another upper limit – these strategies help me stay sane! They help me move thought the shifts as smoothly as I can, with ease and joy. I’m not saying it is easy. Sometimes it is really hard, because I still have a family to care for, our farm and businesses to run, and that is OKAY – acknowledging that we are finding things challenging, helps us let go of control and back into Flow. Do what you need to support yourself through the shifts, and I hope these strategies give you an idea of how you can craft your own support plan too.

 

Number 1: Look after your body.

Look at putting in nourishing foods into your body, foods that are

high vibration if you can – fresh vegetables and fruits, home-grown, home-cooked, etc. Or if you are feeling really scattered and absorbing people’s energies left, right, and centre and knocking you off your high vibe, then take in some foods th

at are grounding like potatoes, carrots, beetroot or other tubers, something that is from under the ground, as those foods can help ground you. Magnesium is a mineral I highly recommend – you can find this in dark chocolate (there is a basis to those cravings!), dark leafy greens and nuts and seeds – as our bodies use up magnesium when we are stressed. Fermented foods may help as well, as research now shows how our guts can influence our moods, and vice versa.

 

You may find that your sleep patterns are scattered whenever you are going through a shift – from middle-of-the-night wake-ups (3.30am, anyone??) to needing naps at random times of the day. Listen to your body and sleep when you can.

 

Movement and exercise helps too, to keep the energies flowing in your

body. If you are finding it hard to move, a massage or any other body-work treatment, a bath or shower, can help.

 

 

Number 2: Drink water.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate as much as you can. Besides nourishing our bodies, when we drink water, we come back into our body, we ground back into our body. This can help shift that scattered-ness, and keeps energies flowing. Drinking water also supports the cellular shifts that are going on within our body as we go through a Consciousness shift.

 

Remember that water can carry high vibrations, if we set the intention to it. Adding crystals, flower essences, solar or lunar energies, vegetable or fruit slices, and most importantly, our Intentions, can help “charge” the water with higher vibrations to support our bodies.

 

Number three: Ask for help.

This is a big one, and it can be a challenging one. Reach out. Ask for help from your friends, your family, people you trust, people you know are having high vibrations, or people you know who are going through the same thing that you’re going through. Ask them for help. Check in with them. Being very careful not to go down into negativity. It helps to check in and to know that you are not the only one going through a shift. Other people are going through a shift too. Other people are struggling at certain times. You are not the only one and you are not crazy so it helps to check in with someone else, to ask for help with those around you. Ask for help from your unseen supporters – your spirit guides, your angels, the Ascended Masters, your unseen Lightworkers who are there helping you, supporting you through this shift. Ask them for help. Remember that they cannot help you unless you ask for it.

 

Number four: Do things that you love

These can be rituals, or they can be extra spiritual practices, or your hobbies, or anything that will lift up your vibration. Engage in things that you love because they remind you of YOU. When it is something that you have always loved to do, but haven’t had time for it lately, now is a good time to come back to it.

 

Number 5: Honouring your journey.

Honouring your journey as a human being. Honouring your journey as a spiritual being in a human body. Honouring how far you have come. Honouring those dark times that you have gone through but you survived anyway. Honouring your strengths and how you still here. You are still here, there is a reason you are still here. You are strong enough. Honour your journey, honour your strengths, honour yourself. It helps. It helps to remember you are an awesome person who has got this far.

Number six: Check in with your spiritual practices.

It helps when we surrender, or we acknowledge, that there is a power greater than us. There is a power that has our back, that is looking out for us, that is cheering us on, wanting us to move through this and be here and be Lightworkers. Holding your light, holding your love. Acknowledging it helps us know that we are not alone, that we have never been alone.

 

Number seven: Remembering your divinity.

Remember that you are a soul that came from a Greater Divine, that the spark in you is the same spark that is in the Greater Divine that is in the same spark as everyone else here. Remember that you are divine beautiful, limitless soul, living in a human body. You are more than your human body, and you are more amazing than you ever think that you are. Remembering your divinity helps you know that this too shall pass, and that you are going to come through like a butterfly out of a chrysalis. A big, beautiful soul with a higher consciousness, and then you get to do it again later on.

 

I hope you have found inspiration in these seven ways that can support you through a spiritual shift, a breaking through of an upper limit. If you have found value in this article, I would love to hear from you. I would love to hear how this has helped you, or if you don’t agree with it, feel free to express your opinion. What I do ask is to share it with love and kindness, and above all be kind to yourself too.