Holiday stress tip #1-
If you do not actually have a saber tooth tiger leaping towards you, and you are feeling that jittery feeling in your gut, then it is your thought about something (or several things) that is bringing the stress physiology into your body. To change the physiology, simply change the thought.
Sounds simple doesn’t it?
There are some complicating factors that I do not see addressed in many stress management programs or trainings which I think are important for holiday stress management or any other time of the year stress management. If you are not actually in danger from an aggressor, then it is your thought that brings the stress response into your body.
For example, when I look at my social calendar for the month of December, I find myself scheduled to attend a number of social functions, which I would prefer not to attend.
So the thought about being in a crowd of people, none of whom will attack me by the way, several weeks ahead of time will bring an uncomfortable feeling into my body, which will be strong enough for me to notice. That is a stress response, and when I decide that I would prefer to feel something else besides stress, then I will need to deal with…
Holiday Stress Tip #2-
The physiology of stress, especially for men, if it has been strong, can take about 20 minutes to clear from the body. That is why a time out process can be important for stress reduction.
John Gottman, Ph.D., talks about what he calls Diffuse Physiological Arousal in his workshop The Art and Science of Love, describing the stress response to a tee. What Gottman does not mention is that my stress response is designed to come on line fast and strong, to motivate a leap away from the tiger.
Mihalyi Csikszentmihaly, Ph.D., in his book FLOW says the human central nervous system processes packages of data, sound waves, photons for vision, pressure for touch, tastes, smells, etc. at the rate of a package every 1/18th second.
Paul Ekman,Ph.D. says that we respond to facial expressions in perhaps 1/25th second, and Micheal Merzenich, Ph.D. says Senior Drivers need to process changing road conditions in 1/45th second.
It takes me about 1/10th second to blink my eyes. The point is that the stress response happens fast, and it takes some time to change your physiology back to calm if the diffuse physiological response was strong.
Stress management programs need to teach that information, so that folks who are using visualization or breathing or a combination of those stress management techniques do not give them up because they do not experience an immediate return to a Norman Rockwell vision of the holidays, which feels like calmness and contentment.
I do think that if I have practiced breathing and visualization techniques, for example, Open Focus, from Les Fehmi, then my body may return to a resting state faster than it would if I were just beginning my practice. What News is There From the Research? Are there holiday stress tips from recent research? Yes, there is and the most promising, in my experience, is based on technology from the new field of neurocardiology, which is the study of the heart’s own nervous system.
With some practice, I can teach my heart to change the coherence or time between heart beats from incoherent to coherent much faster than the 20 minutes that Dr. Gottman talks about in his DPA descriptions.
And this process, called heart rate variability biofeedback, works in the proverbial heart beat, using thinking and breathing tools, so as I contemplate my December social schedule, and bring a stress response, way ahead of time, I can do my heart rate variability biofeedback and return my feelings to quiet contentment now.
I have been using heart rate variability biofeedback with anger management and domestic violence clients for about 8 years, because it helps me show clients,using the computer’s feedback, how fast thoughts change physiology, either in a helpful or unhelpful direction, and how simple it is to sustain long periods of heart rate variability coherence by choosing to think cooperative and affiliate thoughts more often than not.
Heartmath does not require one to become a guru, and chant a mantra, it fits with our life style and busy schedules.
Once I train the brain in my heart to become coherent, I can think my cue thought and breath deeply and feel a very pleasant feeling in my body, a feeling so different than an unnecessary stress response. I can do this process every five minutes for 2 heart beats, and begin to steer my physiology towards the kind of physiology that encourages neurogenesis, or the growth of new brain cells, and neuroplasticity, which is the growth of new connections between neurons.
Increased brain fitness is a side effect of Heartmath? Sure is, and if you are an athlete or a student, the key to peak performance is relaxation, not stress.
Holiday Stress Tip #3- Learn and do heart rate variability biofeedback. It took me six 1/2 hour practices to make a serious improvement in my ability to cue the relaxation without a computer. You will feel it happening.