Essentially, we are hard-wired to escape from lions.
Our bodies and minds are often able to cope with the dramatic events in our lives: the house moves, the new baby, the new job etc.
Our bodies shoot rapidly into high alert and release hormones, namely adrenaline and cortisol - which short term is absolutely fine - then the lion disappears, our bodies settle down and we relax again.
In my experience, it's 'the pack of lion cubs' that pose the greater problem, those pesky every day repeated mini-stresses that especially busy, 30ish - 55 yr old multi-tasking professionals and parents face almost every day.
We awake to the texts, e-mails and to do list before we’ve even got out of bed. Breakfast isn’t always a relaxing affair (with children's needs to be attended to). The school drop-off and work commute adds another time constraint so by the time we’ve even got to work our hormones have already escaped a dozen lions.
Our bodies 'know' that the most important aim is survival. So in this constant state of alert, unfortunately the hormones that aid repair, relaxation and sex get depleted. Our bodies start to tell us to function for essential duties only. If at that point we are ‘quiet' enough to listen, then we have a fighting chance.
We have raised the bar so high in terms of how we wish to live, that the ’stress’ to maintain this is constant and fast.
When you are consistently tired, ill, injured, depressed, in pain or frequently off work, you’ve essentially driven your body and mind to a state of crisis. Then, you get slightly better: work, get busy, get tired, stressed and repeat. The body starts to tire and then you sink a little lower.
And often, the vicious circle continues.
You haven’t got time to sleep 8 hours, listen, take care of yourself.
So you ignore it, again.
A very real problem is that our brains don’t know the difference between the real lion and what appears physiologically to be a lion.
But we clearly do. If we recognise what state our body is in we can actually change it. One technique which is very helpful in switching the switch from our 'stress fighting' system to our 'calm' parasympathetic system is our breathing.
So what's the solution?
One of the first techniques I teach it to almost every single one of my clients who I coach is very simple.
Here’s what to do:
1. Sit back in your chair.
2. Place your hand on your stomach and breathe.
3. Feel - is there any movement under your hand?
Ideally there is, but don’t be surprised if there isn’t. This is called diaphragmatic breathing and is one of the most powerful ways to switch your state from the ‘fight or flight hunting lions’ state to the more relaxed state in which we should ideally be for much of our day.
4. Spend 1-2 minutes breathing from your stomach. Focus on this. If your mind wanders off to the to do list, just gently bring it back to the breathing.
5. That’s it! Repeat this 3-4 times during the day or even every hour if you’re in a period of really high stress.
This simple technique can also help those with pain, anxiety and emotional challenges.