A healthy body leads to a healthy mind. Or maybe a healthy mind leads to a healthy body. Perhaps there is no distinction at all. But what is for certain is that if you are on the path to wellness, you cannot ignore your mental health.
In today’s modern world, with all the wonders of technology and connectivity why is it that mental illness has been on a steady incline? As we become more connected online, we seem to become more disconnected to our day to day life. More and more things are constantly vying for our attention: do this, buy that, wear this, go here. We are overstimulated, and many of us have no idea how to slow down. What we need to recognise is that our nervous system is ancient , it developed as a system that continually processes information, filtering what is threatening, what is not, who is friend, who is foe, and also how we move and interact with our environment. Our ‘stress response’ hasn’t changed in hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, however the world around us has changed immensely in the last 200 years.
We no longer need to be ready for the tiger coming out of the bushes, or the bear at the back of the cave, these ‘threats’ have been replaced with deadlines, traffic, notifications, poor sleep and a host of other stimuli. Our endocrine system responds immediately to these stressors, releasing hormones and neurotransmitters to prepare the body to fight or flee. These micro-stressors accumulate and begin to wreak havoc on the body and mind. So what can we do about it?
We need to be intelligent with the stressors in our life. We need to lean into certain types of stress, and learn tools to re-boot the system. Stress isn’t the problem. Stress is why we are here, it drives adaptation and growth. We just need to learn how to use stress to our advantage, instead of letting it be our downfall. Let us introduce a concept called hormesis . Which basically refers to using a stimulus, that in large doses may be harmful, but in small doses causes adaptation. The reason why lifting weights makes us stronger. The reason why ‘doing the hard thing’ causes us to grow. When we step out of the comfort zone, we step into the growth zone. It’s making the decision to face the fear and do something we know will be hard, that leads to the most personal development. Submerging your body in freezing cold water for a few minutes is far from easy and far from comfortable, but that’s exactly why you should do it. Aside from the host of physical and physiological benefits, we are teaching our body how to deal with ‘real’ stress again.
We are able to trigger the stress response fully, in a controlled environment, and then have the opportunity to choose how we respond. We can re-learn, and re-wire how we respond to a stressful situation. If you can breathe your way to a place of calm, amidst the intensity of an ice bath, you can breathe your way to a place of calm anywhere. The breath is unique in the fact that it is both automatic and controllable. So we can either let it control us, or we can control it, and therefore better control the body and mind. So the next time something ‘stresses us out’ we have a real time tool to navigate our reaction, and bring ourselves back to a place of calm.
Your breath is 100% free, accessible to everyone, at all times, and has an immediate effect on the nervous system, mind, body and emotional state. Understanding how your breath works can be a stepping stone to more balance in your life. And learning an efficient, constructive way to deal with stress, in all its forms, may be one of the most important factors for health today.
So get in an ice bath, or hop in a sauna, or run up a hill, and know that you will be stronger and better for it on the other side, because stress isn’t the enemy, we just need to better understand it.