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3 Things You Need To Know About Stress

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women with her face in her hands looking stressed out. Podcast episode 3 things you need to know about stress

Welcome to The Wholehearted Mom Podcast! I am so honoured to have you here. You’ll be glad you joined.

In this episode you will learn:

+ Important facts about stress
+ About the stress response system
+ 3 simple strategies you can start using today to combat stress
+ Experience a guided meditation at the end.



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Sarah Reckman

Episode #16 - 3 Things You Need To Know About Stress (Meditation included)

Are you feeling stressed these days? I invite you to think about one word or emoji that would describe the stress you are feeling.  Maybe it’s a volcano emoji, a glass of wine, or the words overwhelmed, never-ending, exhausting, or burnout. 

I want you to know that you are not alone. The world is a stressful place right now. There are so many stressors. And big ones we have very little control over.

One of the first things we need to do when working towards change is to understand the problem or the thing we want to change. We also need to bring awareness to it. Daniel Siegel says we need to name it to tame it.

3 Facts About Stress

  1. Stress are normal and play an important role 
  2. Stress is connected to our stress response system (fight, flight, freeze) 
  3. You can have a healthy relationship with your worries and stress

Stress Response System

In order to be able to manage stress and find balance in our lives we need to first understand how and why stress is affecting us and have a greater appreciation for our stress response system. 

Now the stress response system is one of humans’ oldest and most complicated biological systems. People take entire courses on this stuff. So I am going to try to break it way down and just provide you with the very basics. Bare with me! This is often how I explain it to my students.

First I would like to introduce you to 2 special parts of the brain:

3 things you need to know about stress
  1. Amygdala: the brain’s fear centre & contributes to emotional processing (Amy the security guard) – Amy is always scanning for danger and is responsible for triggering the stress response system. When Amy takes over we call this the amygdala hijack. 
  2. Prefrontal cortex: the front of the brain that regulates cognitive and executive function (including judgement, mood, emotions, reading social cues, logic etc.) Olly the Wise Owl

3.Stress hormones: 

    • Cortisol – longer acting stress hormone (Adrenal glands) 
    • Adrenaline and noradrenaline (short-acting stress hormones) 

I’m going to try to explain it by telling a story… (Dr. Nadine Burke Harris)

You are walking through a forest and you see a bear. 

Your amygdala senses danger and sounds the alarm. Your brain sends signals to your adrenal glands saying “Release stress hormones!” (adrenaline & cortisol) This is good! 

Adrenaline causes your heart rate to increase, your airways to open, it raises your blood pressure and shunts blood toward your skeletal muscles (necessary for running & jumping). 

Adrenaline and noradrenaline are powerful stimulants, designed to help you think more clearly so that you can figure out the quickest path to safety. They also create feelings of euphoria, that adrenaline rush that makes you think you can conquer the world. 

You are physically ready to fight or flight. Now because we don’t want you to stop and think about how big and scary this bear is and what the odds of winning are, your amygdala temporarily shuts down the thinking part of your brain (prefrontal cortex).

Once you get away from the bear and are safely in your cave your stress systems are designed to shut themselves down. Body has like a thermostat. You rest and your parasympathetic nervous system is turned back on.  

That complex system sounds amazing and super important for survival, when there is a bear in the woods. 

The problem is this system also gets activated when we experience a perceived threat (not a real physical threat) such as embarrassment, anger, vulnerability, and system overload (aka stress)  

The longer term effects those stress hormones

The longer term effects those stress hormones have on our body are treacherous. Let’s look more closely at what cortisol does. Cortisol helps the body adapt to repeated or long-term stressors. 

  • Raises blood pressure and blood sugar, inhibits cognitive thinking, and destabilizes mood. It also disrupts sleep. (high alert need to be a light sleeper) so you can learn how to respond better and quicker. 
  • Unlike adrenaline which can decrease appetite and stimulates fat burning, cortisol stimulates fat accumulation and triggers the body to crave high-sugar, high-fat foods. (think about famine or storing for when the stress response system is triggered) high levels of cortisol can also inhibit reproductive function 
  • Activating the immune system in case of injury during this stressful time.

Did you know that our thoughts alone can trigger our amygdala to feel threatened and trigger this response?

This is why mindset work is so important. 

Our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are so interconnected and generally lead by our thoughts. (This is the core foundation of CBT) which I cover more on in 2 Mondays. 

So I am going to give you 3 simple strategies you can start using today to combat stress.

  1. Affirmations and positive self-talk.
    • Affirmations help us to speak truth and positivity into our lives and when we have positive thoughts we trigger positive feelings, which results in us making good healthy choices.
      • This too shall pass
      • I am a strong women and I will get through this. 
      • I have a good support system to lean on
      • Stress is my friend
      • I can handle anything I take one step at a time. 
  2. The power of your breath
    • Deep breathing is shown to be one of the most affective ways of calming our stress response system
    • teach rectangle breathing 


3. Mindfulness & Meditation 

  • When we take time regularly to quiet our mind we become more present and aware of our inner processes, we are better able to manage our emotions, make better decisions, and to be more fully engaged in life. (read x2)

Leaves on a Stream Meditation

This tool was created by Hugo Alberts and Lucinda Poole.

Sitting in a comfortable position, allow your shoulders to drop and relax, and plant your feet firmly on the ground… Or, if you are sitting cross-legged, feel the sense of contact between your feet and the seat and the floor beneath you.

Now gently close your eyes, and for the next few breaths bring your full focus of attention to your breathing.

Notice the feeling of the air flowing in through the nostrils, down into the lungs, and down into the belly as you inhale… and on the exhale, feel the release of any tension as you let the air out slowly.

Now, imagine that you are sitting by the side of a gently flowing stream… This might be a stream that you know, or it might be something you create in your mind using your imagination. There might be a light breeze blowing as you sit here, dappled light glistening on the water, and soft green grass beneath you… imagine the stream however you like – it’s your imagination (10 secs)

Now imagine that there are leaves floating on the surface of the stream, and these leaves are gently flowing past you, down the stream.

For the next few minutes, see if you can take every thought that pops into your head and place it on a leaf…

Now your thoughts may show up in your mind in the form of words, or pictures, or something else. However a thought arises, simply place it on a leaf, and let it float by.

Do this regardless of whether the thoughts are positive and enjoyable, or negative and challenging. Simply place each on a leaf, and let it float down the stream… (10 secs)

If you notice that your thoughts stop momentarily, just continue to watch the stream. Sooner or later your thoughts will start up again… (20 secs)

Allow the stream to flow at its own rate. There is no need to try and speed it up. The aim here is not to wash the leaves away – the aim is to allow them to come and go in their own time… To just sit and watch. (20 secs)

If your mind says something along the lines of “I can’t do it” or “This is stupid”, place those thoughts on leaves, and let them float by… (20 secs)

If a leaf gets stuck, let it hang around. There is no need to force it to float away… simply sit and watch as sooner or later another leaf will come along and give it the nudge it needs (20 secs)

If a difficult feeling arises, such as boredom, impatience, or anxiety, simply acknowledge it. Say to yourself

“Here is a feeling of boredom”, “Here is a feeling of impatience”, “Here is a feeling of anxiety”, and place those words on a leaf… (20 secs)

Now from time to time, your thoughts will hook you, and you will lose track of the exercise. This is normal as our attention naturally wanders, and it will happen time and time again… As soon as you realize this has happened, simply come back to your stream… (20 secs)

Continuing to place each thought that pops into your mind on a leaf, and watching it slip by… (30 secs)

Again and again, your thoughts will hook you. Remember, this is normal. As soon as you notice this has happened, simply come back to your stream… (30 secs)

As the exercise comes to an end, begin to let go of your imagined stream and bring your attention back to where you are… notice what you can hear… what you can feel… and when your ready, open your eyes and notice what you can see…

Let’s take a slow deep breath together. inhale……. exhale… 

Reflection (journal) questions:

What did you notice?

■ How did you visualize your thoughts (i.e., words, images, or something else)?

■ Did your mind get hooked by thoughts? If so, were you able to unhook yourself and come back to the stream? What type of thoughts did you get stuck on? (family, work, personal) 

■ Did any negative or painful thoughts show up? Were you able to place these thoughts on leaves and allow them to float by at their own pace?

■ How do you feel now?