At what point does the dose of stress go from being medicine, to poison?
Yes, stress can be medicine… at small, acute doses. When dosed appropriately, stress enlivens the body, up-regulates its biological processes and when appropriately brought back down to baseline, to homeostasis, strengthens the body and mind.
“What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”
Our body loves to do hard things. It’s built for it. This can be seen in the pop culture of ice bathing, intermittent training, sauna seeking, sky diving, resistance training and fearless fasting health seeking individuals. It’s very important for your physical, mental and emotional health to push your body to its limits… But we need to know our limits…
Stress is designed to be a 2-way street. Our ancestors of old only had only a few stressors to deal with whether that be food for the day, duking it out with Toothy the sabre tooth tiger, a cold snap, or maybe, an invading tribe. Unlike the stressors of the modern human, you and I, with our financial woes, relationship challenges, the lack of social support/connection, the 80-hour work week, the Telco bill we need to pay, plus all the rest of the “tigers in disguise”, we struggle to have the space in our complex shows we create call “lives”, to come back to baseline. Instead, we persist in a chronic persistent state of activation.
We can only fight or flight for so long. That up-regulated nervous energy surging through our system. The adrenaline and cortisol hormones pulsing through our veins. The inflammatory cytokines ready and waiting for injury… the goring… the bite… yet it doesn’t come. This full body, major physiological and psychological event perfectly crafted to protect us from a clearly defined present moment threat…
When we can no long fight, or flight, our bodily processes launch its last-ditch effort for survival. The deeper, more solemn freeze response which prepares us for our impending doom – to become Toothy’s dinner. We numb out, physically and psychologically, energy drains from us to keep us ever-so-quiet. Maybe, just maybe, Toothy will see something tastier and chase after that… Our elimination systems loosen and in the extreme, we can soil ourselves… again, another last-ditch effort to get Toothy to leave us alone. We can find our selves running to the toilet excessively, with irritated bowels and a temperamental bladder.
These autonomic states that we can find ourselves trapped in, in and of themselves are not broken. They are doing exactly as the design informs them. You see, the human stress response is meant only for short bursts of life-saving effort before coming back to baseline. The problem is our environments we now find ourselves in are ladened with tigers. Our minds are tiger creating super computers. We are fantastic at getting into stress… but, not so fantastic at getting out of stress.
Your ability to come back to baseline and regulate your autonomic states is a process called “allostasis”. And, in this day and age, and the burden of stress we find ourselves under, allostasis is not a gift that we inherit… not with the weight of this burden. Allostasis is a SKILL. A skill that can and must if you want to be performing at your highest level, be taught, learnt and mastered. Allostasis is a vital skill that can widen our “window of tolerance” – the amount we can hold before the medicine turns to poison.
What are some of the ways you regulate your autonomic states? I would love to hear in the comments below.
Would you like to understand strategies for you to master your nervous system? To widen your “window or tolerance”? To build your stress resilience?
Is it time to get this under control?
Join me at my next Nervous System Resilience Training (NSRT) workshop or enrol in my Nervous System Mastery Online Course to learn the all-important skills of allostasis