Increase Capacity for Stress

Stress gets a bad press, so much so it would be easy to think that stress is bad, but actually some stress is a good thing.

The way our bodies respond to perceived threat prepares us for immediate self-preserving action: this is known as the ‘fight or flight’ response.

On receiving a distress signal about a threat (such as a stalking tiger, or a dunking in cold water), our brain triggers the sympathetic nervous system by causing a burst of adrenaline to be released from the adrenal glands; this increases the heart rate, pushing blood to the muscles; widens airways allowing more oxygen to be sent to the brain, and mobilizes blood sugars as an energy supply. Cortisol is released which keeps the nervous system revved up until the threat is perceived to have passed and action is no longer required, and then the para-sympathetic nervous system takes over and returns the body to a resting state.

So far, so good. The flight or flight response seems a reasonable and useful immediate reaction to the threat of a sabre tooth tiger, or indeed immersion in freezing water.

However, in our modern world, although genuinely life threatening situations are, thankfully, usually rare, our primitive stress systems are often overloaded so seemingly low level stressors such as busy traffic, work deadlines, a bulging to do list or funny looks from others … trigger the fight or flight response

Chronic stress can lead to brain changes that result in anxiety and physical pain, compounding things further.

So what can we do about this?

Well, cold water therapy is one thing. Studies have shown that repeated three minute dips in cold water over a period of time significantly reduces the adrenaline driven response to stressful situations; and increases our capacity to calm down more quickly.

Understandably not everyone will fancy a cold water dip but if you were curious you could try turning the shower down to cold for 30 seconds, washing your face in cold water or soaking your feet in cold water, this has all been shown to be beneficial so the results could be interesting.

Chronic pain but cold water not your thing? Try listening to my 8 day Mindfulness for Chronic Pain series.

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