When we understand how this connection works it becomes a lot easier to choose how we want to feel, rather than being victim to whatever the day throws at us. I’m going to give you three easy ways that you can stop fear, stress, anxiety or anger from getting in the way of your happiness.
These emotions are typically our bodies’ response to a perceived threat. It’s what’s known as the fight-or-flight response. It would be more accurate to name it the fight-flight-or-freeze response however, as these are the ways that our body adapts to deal with danger. The medical term for this is the sympathetic nervous system.
Historically this response system has served us very well, as our bodies would adapt to face danger. Various physiological changes occur, such as increased blood flow to our arms (for fighting) and legs (for running) and numbing of the pain receptors in our body, and a rush of adrenaline to help us respond faster to whatever threatens us.
When the threat is real this response system works brilliantly, and gives us our best chance of survival. Today though, rather than the threat being real (something like a predatory animal), it is often imagined (judgement or criticism for example).
Here are three ways that we can quickly and naturally switch off this fight-or-flight response system, and utilise the body’s natural medicine cabinet to return to balance.
For guys especially, this is a very underused natural healer. Crying releases cortisol through the tears. Cortisol is a product of the adrenal gland and it helps us deal with stress by shutting down unnecessary functions, like reproduction and the immune system, in order to allow the body to direct all energies toward dealing with the stress or threat. An overactive fight-or-flight response produces more cortisol than is healthy for our bodies, and it begins to have a poisonous effect.
Crying not only helps us to shed excess cortisol, but it also helps us to release emotional burdens that we may have been carrying for quite some time. This is why we so often feel lighter and better after a good cry. Crying is a natural process that a lot of guys deny themselves needlessly. Give yourself permission to cry whenever you feel like crying.
Sweating also releases cortisol and other toxins from our body. Sweating though exercise uses the energy that our bodies have attributed to deal with danger during fight-or-flight, and returns the system to balance. Exercise also releases endorphins into the body as a natural reward. Endorphins are a feel good hormone and effect biological changes in our brain that elevate our mood.
Exercise is also great for quietening the monkey mind. Increased focus on our body allows us to disconnect from our thoughts, and this results in a feeling of peace and calm. As it is our thinking that creates the perceived threats that activate the fight-or-flight, exercise also acts as a preventative medicine.
Conscious breathing through meditation, mindfulness, or pranayama is hugely beneficial. It activates the response of the parasympathetic nervous system. This system effectively shuts off the fight-or-flight mechanism as it slows our heart rate, increases glandular activity, and relaxes certain muscles. By design this is the natural state of the body.
Because of the stresses (and perceived threats) of our modern life, we spend a lot of time in fight-or-flight, and so a return to normal brings what meditators call a “grounded” or “centered” feeling.
Conscious breathing anchors us in the present moment, and allows us to find space between our thoughts. This –like regular exercise – helps us to avoid unnecessarily entering fight-or-flight mode so often.
Now you know the three easiest ways to elevate your mood and to feel better now. They are all simple and very effective, but none of them will work unless you use them. Consciously decide to feel better more of the time, and watch what happens to your days.
This article was originally published on the Good Men Project and is an extended version of a shorter blog post on this site