The prehistoric cave man caught off-guard by a ferocious sabre tooth tiger confronted two choices – fight or flight – as his neck tightened, heart pounded, stomach butterflied, mouth dried and breathing turned shallow to counter the menacing threat.
Stored fats and glucose poured into our hero’s bloodstream for quick energy, heart rate and blood pressure increased to carry more oxygen, his digestive system slowed for extra blood to the muscles and his body’s blood-clotting mechanisms became active in anticipation of injury.
Modern man undergoes the same physical response to emotional stress carried daily and it takes a toll on health, according to experts. The wear and tear of acute stress strains coronary arteries, elevates blood pressure, increases cholesterol, decreases serotonin and produces extra cortisol. The impact can be coronary artery disease, diabetes, sleeplessness and obesity.
Today’s heart and mind must engage in dialogue – and come to terms with what is really troubling them – to achieve victory over negative stress and set the whole person on a course to good health, according to Heather Bostian of A Holistic Body Work Design.
Bostian, a licensed massage therapist, concentrated movement therapist, registered yoga teacher and certified hypnotherapist, incorporates Master of Fine Arts degrees from San Francisco State University and San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre to “tune up the body” as one would a piano. Rounding out this expertise is her spiritual facet as a minister in the Universal Light Church.
“Deep, deep energy exists at all four levels: mental, spiritual, emotional and physical,” Bostian said. “You have to connect all of those aspects. You cannot compartmentalize them. Mental issues have everything to do with heart and liver and gallbladder.”
This holistic approach grounds Bostian’s practice, which teaches people to “listen in and tune in” to the entire body.
“The mind has to take an elevator ride down to the heart, or vice versa,” Bostian said. “It’s like having tea. One will say: ‘Hey, girl – talk to me.’ The mind needs to breathe into the heart or the heart into the mind [to honestly learn] what really, really is [a person’s] truth.”
Some employers, such as Northern Arizona University, provide assistance programs to help workers “accept what is going on in your life, but not let it drive you,” according to Suzanne Botello, MA, LPC, a counselor for the university’s Employee Assistance and Wellness program.
“What I look at…my niche…is the idea that when we get into stress, we forget all of our tools,” Botello said. “The brain is not able to make the healthy choices it otherwise might be able to do…The toolbox gets smaller and smaller when we are under stress.”
A person’s normally healthy decision-making, critical thinking, inner resources, resilience and strengths do not function optimally in times of stress, she said, causing people to forget “who they are, what they stand for and the natural strengths they have” to keep themselves healthy.
“Physiologically, emotionally and mentally – we react to stress,” Botello explained. “When our brain starts trying to do more work with [fewer] resources, the more we forget what we can do to find balance in our lives to practice self-care. “
Stress often feels like a backpack full of heavy rocks weighing down the person affected, Bostian said. Once able to unload some of those rocks, the person feels energized, liberated and armed to face the world.
Bostian discussed unhappiness, which often is manifested through unhealthy nutritional habits, “emotional stuckness” and “numbing with pharmaceuticals or alcohol.” Adults going through divorce, for example, often relive unpleasant and unresolved family scenes from childhood.
“Divorce takes people back to when they were four or five or six years old,” Bostian explained. “It’s triggered by a mom or dad or brother or sister, and now is related to the person they are divorcing. They are acting like a little girl or a little boy in a big person’s body. They are not really thinking through what needs to be thought through before acting in a way that will cause major disruption to their life.”
Botello and Bostian offered multiple suggestions for reducing stress in daily life. Exercise, prayer and meditation, deep wave sleep and developing a plan for personal resiliency are methods to help keep a person calm and focused on values, Botello said. Taking three five-minute walks per day – morning, noon and evening – is another activity she recommends.
Bostian’s advice reinforced those concepts: breathe deeply using a “birthing” technique; learn yoga; walk (and “hug a tree”) to connect with nature; enjoy Epsom or sea salt baths; play soothing music; keep a journal to honor and address feelings; stay around animals and plants (“really powerful healers”); and avoid abusing drugs or alcohol (with sponsor support).
When creating a personal resiliency plan in Botello’s workshop, the employee identifies a desired result, the inner and outer resources available, things that can get in the way and how to counterbalance them, solution-focused strategies that could be used immediately to move toward the desired result, and how the employee would feel, think, pay attention or act differently once the desired result were achieved.
Whatever an individual’s plan for personal resiliency, the achievement through effective management of negative stress is a potentially healthier lifestyle: “We can [somewhat] pre-create how we are going to feel,” Botello said. “The brain begins to [adapt]…[So] it can do more with less help [while under stress].” FBN
By Sue Marceau
Flagstaff Business News