Stress can cause massive physical changes in the body. When we perceive a threat, the body floods with stress hormones and our adrenalin accelerates the body’s ability to respond rapidly. Heart rate and breathing increase, muscles tense and we sweat more as the body goes into “fight or flight” mode to deal with the perceived danger.
In the business world, we often encounter situations that really do not merit this type of “fight” or “flight” response — but our bodies don’t know this. Responding rapidly is a cultural norm for many businesses. As a result, most of us have been conditioned, when a situation arises, to believe we have an “emergency!”
When our supervisor or client says something we perceive as negative, our body tends to flip into this “fight” or “flight” mode, reacting as though we just encountered a hungry cave bear.
The problem is that prolonged high rates of stress are hard on the body and after a period of time, this “fight” or “flight” response becomes our new normal. In fact, it becomes an intensity addiction, we oddly begin to crave, when the adrenalin and hormones are no longer rushing in our body. As a result, we look for the next opportunity to begin the stress cycle again, even though we would say we don’t want it, our body craves it.
We spend much time reacting. We have lost the ability to slow ourselves down, quiet our minds, and allow for intuition and creativity to bring us the solutions we need to grow. Our time, energy and focus spent putting out perceived fires, causes us to miss opportunities to work on strategic initiatives that could impact growth.
While clinical studies have shown time and again that stress is a major cause of diseases from cardiovascular disease to depression and substance abuse, 50 percent of Americans say that stress also negatively impacts their personal and professional lives.
Not only does stress affect our personal health, it affects the health of our bottom-line in business as well.
Twenty-five years of clinical research have shown that stress affects our heart rate and produces a tug of war within our autonomic nervous system. Our thoughts, emotions, and experiences of the external world are tightly connected to the functioning of our nervous system, heart rhythm and breathing. Heart-rate variability is the naturally occurring, beat-to-beat variations in the time between heartbeats, depending on the thoughts that go on in our mind as a result of our perceived threat.
A variety of factors, such as our thoughts, breathing patterns, and our exercise program, all influence our heart-rhythm patterns.
So how do we combat stress and its negative effects?
Resiliency and flexibility are essential qualities for rising and adapting to the continual challenges in today’s world. Understanding that coherence is an optimal state in which the heart, mind and emotions are operating in-synch, is essential to performance.
The balance between our heart, mind and emotions happens first when we quiet our minds to the “chatterbox” that tells us we have an “emergency.” It is first putting all things into perspective, which reminds us that most things are just “small stuff.”
The next step is to engage in deeper breathing. This can be achieved through the practice of meditation, prayer, yoga or simple breathing techniques. The key is practice, so that when a perceived “emergency” occurs, you are ready to tap into the techniques that are second nature to you. We all experience this mental, emotional and physical alignment in varying degrees, and like all things, practice makes for greater accessibility.
By having this coherence, we enter the flow of awareness, understanding and intuition we experience when the mind and emotions are brought into coherent alignment with the heart. It can be activated through self-initiated practice. The more we pay attention when we sense the heart is speaking to us or guiding us, the greater our ability will be to access this intelligence and guidance more frequently.
Each of us is capable of achieving, maintaining and increasing our coherence. One of the simplest and quickest paths to coherence is to intend positive feelings – gratitude, compassion, caring, love and other such emotions when facing perceived difficult encounters. In contrast, we can quickly become incoherent when we experience negative thoughts and emotions such as anger, fear and anxiety.
While we can manage our thoughts and therefore our emotions, ultimately controlling our heart-rhythm patterns, conversely, we can control our heart rhythms by regular exercise and varying forms of meditation. When a combination approach is used, we change our ability to process information, better our decision-making, problem-solving, creativity and response to difficulties.
Learning how to quiet your mind and control your heart rhythms not only directly affects how you feel, it affects how you perform at your job.
Susan K. Wehrley is the president and CEO of Susan K. Wehrley & Associates Inc. (www.solutionsbysusan.com) and its subsidiary company, BIZremedies (www.BIZremedies.com). Susan can be reached by calling (414) 581-0449, or click to contact via email at www.solutionsbysusan.com.