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Getting Back to Calm

Everyone says we should reduce stress yet, stress in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. The feeling of stress activates a part of our nervous system called the sympathetic system. From an evolutionary perspective, this system was vital to avoid being eaten by a lion or during a run in with a bear. Also known as the "fight or flight" response, secreted stress hormones set off a cascade of reactions in your body to get your heart pumping quickly, muscles ready to mobilize, and sugar available for energy. This is not the time to be digesting your food or thinking about sex. Body parts are activated that enhance your immediate safety and survival.

This wonderful system was meant to be turned on in the case of an emergency and then quickly shut off so the body can get back into the baseline healing state of relaxation mediated by the parasympathetic nervous system, sometimes referred to as "rest and digest". The problem is, in the culture most of us live in today, there are no more lions and bears running in our path but, we have a chronically activated sympathetic nervous system due to our thoughts and feelings. We are often in a state of panic about our jobs, our kids, our health, our finances, terrorism, the news or whatever else puts us in that feeling of panic. Often, we don't even realize the constant baseline state of emergency we are living in and the potential mental and physical effects this has upon our bodies and our lives. It is the chronically activated sympathetic nervous system that leads to so many of the physical and emotional problems we are now aware of from stress.

The good news is that we each have our own internal valium switch. Dr. Herbert Benson from Harvard's Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine discovered decades ago that we have the ability to turn off the sympathetic response and get our bodies back into the parasympathetic nervous system by what he calls the "Relaxation Response". So, how do you turn on this response? There are many ways. For example, meditation, yoga, breathing and tai chi. Find what you like best and start to cultivate your relaxation practice.

For starters, try this three minute breathing exercise created for Lifestyle Health LLC by Lauren Levine, yoga instructor and founder of Good Life Yoga. To access for free, click HERE for my resource page and scroll down to "Breathing for Calm" under "Stress Management". When you take slow, focused breaths with the exhale longer than the inhale, you can start to find your way back to calm. From there, you can live your best life. Different things work best for different people. Experiment, see how you feel and let me know how it goes for you.

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