Stress is endemic in our modern world. It determines the way we work and live, the way we eat and sleep, the way we walk and sit, the way we breathe and rush from one activity to the next. Stress has become such a part of our modern existence that it almost feels natural. But when people are stressed, their bodies break down, their joints and muscles tighten, their heartbeat speeds up, and their blood pressure rises. While some forms of short-term stress can motivate and encourage us, long-term chronic stress is not good for our bodies or our minds.
The fight or flight response is a natural reaction that occurs when the body perceives a threat to its survival, a threat to its physical well-being or to its psyche. The body responds to the perceived threat, often by increasing heart rate and blood flow. This reaction is unconscious and occurs without the body being aware of what is happening. The fight or flight response is a reaction pattern that has been passed down through countless generations and is essential for survival. Our genetic code is the way it is because it helped our ancestors survive.
But the fight or flight response is only really useful when it is working properly. When the body is too stressed or overreacts, it can lead to physical symptoms such as headaches, palpitations and insomnia. In addition, stress can lead to anxiety and depression. To reduce stress and anxiety, people can adopt practises that help reduce perceived threat, such as meditation and yoga. These practises help prevent the fight or flight response, which can help improve mental health.
Mindfulness meditation and yoga are great ways to control the fight or flight response and can actually improve the body’s natural ability to deal with stress and anxiety. Mindfulness meditation can be a great way to address the fight or flight response and thus gain control over your emotions. In mindfulness meditation, you focus on your breath to calm yourself while being aware of your emotions. Many people find that this is a good way to recognise the physical symptoms of their emotions, such as tension or stress.
In the General Adaptation Syndrome model developed by Hans Selye, there are three phases that people go through when they are stressed. The first phase is the alarm response, in which the body perceives a threat to its survival. Blood chemistry changes, and heart rate and blood pressure increase. The second phase is the acute stress response, and the third phase is the exhaustion phase. This is the moment when the body begins to break down due to the stress response and is no longer able to withstand further stress.
Meditation is a practise of awareness, and the ability to be aware of the physical changes that occur when a person is stressed and begin to lower a person’s stress levels. Meditation helps to relax the body, calm the mind, and create balance within the body. By calming the mind, the things that are seen as threats (that is, the things that cause stress) become easier to manage. But reducing stress is not the end of the exercise. Since stress can make one vulnerable to illness, reducing stress can help the person stay healthy.
Daily life is a constant flow of information that washes over us and stops only when we consciously want it to. The mind detaches from the world around it, withdrawing from the outside world and withdrawing from itself. Our thoughts and feelings become more abstract, while our experiences become less concrete. The self is cut off from the ‘everyday’ of the outside world and our experiences become detached from the self. The next thing we know, we feel completely overwhelmed by stress and cannot see a way out. One of the most important things we can do to find a way out of the stress and anxiety trap is to become more aware of our daily experiences. Mindfulness meditation is a way to understand the mind and our own experiences. By learning to be more mindful and aware of the thoughts and feelings that arise within us, we can find a way out of the stress and anxiety cycle.
Download your free 21-day course in The Path of Mindfulness. In this life-changing 21-day mindfulness journey, Dr Allan Kilner-Johnson guides you through a series of self-guided mindfulness exercises and shows you how and when to bring mindfulness into your daily life.