Home Concepts Managing Stress & Challenges Oiling the Tin Man’s Armor and Healing His Heart IV: Finding Support and Guidance

Oiling the Tin Man’s Armor and Healing His Heart IV: Finding Support and Guidance

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Awareness: stress ruts continue to grow deeper with each stressful event. We become increasingly “trigger-happy” and these ruts are permanent. They don’t go away when we finally decide to lead a less stressful life. They are enduring neuro-physiological “wounds” that do not heal. When these stress-ruts are established in our bodies, they can only be countered and thwarted by either the complete removal of stress from our life (very difficult in the 21st Century) or by the use of medications that moderate the stress (and place us in the vulnerable position of being drug-dependent and often less vigilant and alert). The third alternative—which is most often taken—is the moderation of the stress through the heavy consumption of alcohol, cigarettes, or over-the-counter drugs.  Stress-reduction can’t wait until tomorrow. It is a critical issue to be addressed by ourselves today!

Sunlight: Recently, it has been widely acknowledged that “lumens” (light from the sun) trigger neurotransmitters in our brain that are very calming and uplifting. The absence of sunlight can contribute to depression, anxiety and related mood disorders (often identified as “seasonal” disorders). We should try to expose ourselves to at least 15 minutes of sunlight each day. This exposure should come through our eyes (no sunglasses), though obviously we should not look directly toward the sun and should wear appropriate clothing (including a hat) and sunblock lotion. When we are preparing for an event that could be quite stressful, we should take a brief walk outdoors—it helps to reduce the stress and can be very calming (especially if the setting is beautiful and peaceful, and if fresh air is abundant). If a walk outdoors is not feasible or appropriate, then we should consider using a “light box” (which provides full-spectrum light), or at the very least find ways to work in a room with natural lighting or full-spectrum lighting.

Exercise: Exercise is also widely accepted as a practice that can significantly reduce stress, and as the top long-term preventive health-measure.  Most animals avoid or reduce stress because they engage in physical activities to escape from or fight with the source of the stress (the proverbial lion). We can similarly reduce the physiological arousal associated with preparation for flight or fight by engaging in physical activities (exercise). While we have known about this fight/flight dynamic for many years, recent research suggests that humans are much more inclined to engage in a third activity (or inactivity) when faced with a threat—this is “freeze.” Like other animals that are not very fast and not very strong, human beings living on the Savannah tried to remain very quiet when confronting a real or imagined lion.

This is a smart stance to take for a short period of time—the lion will soon move on. We can once again be active (and “burn off” the stress-related neural and hormonal stimulants that accumulated when we were frightened by the lion). Unfortunately, we often stay “frozen” for a lengthy period of time when confronting imaginary lions, given that these mental lions don’t leave us, but linger in our thoughts and feelings. As a result, our bodies “burn up” with the excessive chemicals that don’t get burned off when we remain frozen. We can educate ourselves about the destructive effect of “frozen behavior” and we can get some exercise—especially after being exposed to real, potential or imagined threats.

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