“I can’t express anger. I grow a tumor instead.” ~ Woody Allen
Do you have knots? Does stress cannibalize you? Do you know why? Nietzsche’s, “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” just isn’t true. Stressors that don’t kill you in the short term often shorten your life and drastically reduce its quality.
Due to my childhood learning disabilities and joint disease, I was forced to exploit science into practical applications, including balancing the hormonal impact of stress on my ability to think clearly and move smoothly. But it’s a tight-rope walk: too little and no effect - too much and catastrophe.
As we approach “heart rate maximum” (think of 220 - your age, in beats/minute), we release a wave of hormones which increase, concentration, focus, precision, motor control, awareness, alertness, balance, reaction time, decision speed, cognitive recognition speed, tachipsychia (time seems to work to your favor), auditory acuity, sensitivity to force, tension and movement, even strength increases; Pain diminishes and even disappears; and you feel euphoric.
But, we have a thick wall of discomfort to go through first. The discomfort you feel when you get to the end of your current threshold - panting, painful chest, headaches, etc. - causes an adaptation in your brain to make your activity become easier; resulting in a release of chemical hormones.
On the other side of that wall lies what coaching psychology calls being “in the zone” and positive psychology names “flow-state.”
We often refer to this as “2nd wind” (though actually multiple “winds” better thought of as “gears” like shifting a car transmission into greater efficiency.) The problem is that you can try to shift too fast, or with a poor transmission. This is where the analogy breaks down, because unlike in a car, if you try to push into a threshold that your body cannot handle, it doesn’t just break down like a car. Your body has another response. It “dumps” into your bloodstream too much of the hormonal chemicals too fast… often called the “adrenal dump.”
When this chemical dump touches your bloodstream instead of supercharging you, it causes you to go to your most basic life-support system in a last ditch attempt to survive. The chemicals, instead of working for you during the slow drip, now dump too rapidly and work against you:
–> time flies by too quickly, making you feel behind, lost, too slow to respond.
–> you feel imprecise, fumbling and trembling unable to hit the broadside of a barn.
–> you see with “tunnel vision” - only what’s directly in front of you.
–> you become panicky and hyper-vigilant, unable to focus, jumpy and skittish.
–> you hit your head, trip, stumble, fall and feel uncoordinated.
–> you can hardly hear even loud noises (called “auditory exclusion”), screams for help, even your own voice.
–> you feel numb, insensitive and incapable of feeling even dramatic movements and force.
–> you feel weak and listless, like you’re wading through molasses.
–> pain becomes amplified, pounding, throbbing, screaming in your head, even if you’re not injured - beset by a battery of “phantom pains” throughout your body…
All this, because too much of your jet fuel dumped into your bloodstream, because you surpassed heart rate maximum.
How Do You Walk the Tightrope? As you approach heart rate maximum (HRmax), performance increases dramatically, and as you crest beyond HRmax, it gets exponentially worse. This also negatively impacts your health, too, so don’t think it’s just for athletes and fighters. When you chronically “stress out,” you create a host of harmful inflammatory responses that can lead to illness and lowered immunity (Miller & Wrosch, 2007).
Even though we have digital age nervous systems capable of masterful creations and performance, we have a Paleolithic alarm system. If a coworker, boss, spouse or child is throwing a tantrum at you, you hormones act as if you’re being chased across the tundra by a sabertooth tiger.
But you can emotionally acclimate you to stressors, so that you convert the fast-release dump into a slow-release drip.
*** You can’t control your hormones.
*** You can’t even control your heart rate.
*** But you can control your breath.
Breath is the only mechanism which has branches to both aspects of your nervous system: the voluntary which you can control, and the autonomic which you cannot. Specific breathing exercises can help you relax. But there are also exercises which can be used to maximize the speed of your recovery from exceeding your maximum heart rate (HRmax).
In a crisis, you forget everything, because your mind clears out unnecessary thoughts in order to open to the new, critical information coming in. But your skills are not stored in your mind. They’re in your body. Your mind doesn’t need to remember what to do under the extreme stress of a crisis; you only need to be aware enough to remember your that you can control your breath.
Exhale, shake it off, smile, repeat. Those with a positive emotional style are less likely to develop colds than were individuals with low levels of positive attitudes (Cohen & Pressman, 2006). Positive affect was also found to be correlated with reduced symptom severity and reduced pain. Researchers like Cohen distinguish low levels of positive affect from negative affect — a low level of positive affect does not necessarily mean a high level of negative affect, and vice versa. You can’t just “not be negative.” You must also be actively positive.
I’m offering you an opportunity to get my life’s work on this subject for free: my library of books and videos called “Primal Stress: Revive - Survive - Thrive.” If you want a copy, then click here: http://www.rmaxinternational.com/primalstress/?page_id=24