Here Be Tigers
You’re in India, walking in the jungle. Suddenly – a tiger!
Your heart races, your adrenaline pumps, you fun as fast as your legs can carry you in the opposite direction.
And you’re safe.
Now, fast forward ahead to now.
You’re at your desk. You open your email. Suddenly – a deadline has changed! Your heart races, your adrenaline pumps, and you flurry into panic mode to address the “paper tiger” that has just shown up.
Phew, now you’re safe. For the moment.
The only problem is that in the modern world, we are surprised by probably twenty paper tigers a day.
Our nervous system and our stress response, so elegantly designed to keep us from getting eaten by hungry tigers, has become one our greatest liabilities in the modern age. The steady drip, drip, drip of adrenaline and cortisol into our system is causing adrenaline fatigue and a host of other stress- related illnesses.
According to the American Stress Institute’s 2012 study:
- 77% of people regularly experience physical symptoms from stress
- 73% of people regularly experience psychological symptoms from stress
- 48% suffer sleep issues froms stress
- 48% feel that their stress has increased in the last 5 years
- 76% cited money and work as leading causes of stress
While stress can be good (achievement, strength, conditioning, awakeness), too much stress over a long time can start to burn your body out. (Check out these “Six Myths About Stress” from the American Psychological Institute.)
There are many ways do de-fang our paper tigers. Top choices:
- Connecting with friends
While meditation and yoga won’t be everyone’s favorite solution, they do top the list of suggestions. We have to give a significant shout out here to Herbert Benson, PhD, who in 1975 developed a system for triggering the “Rest and Digest” side of our nervous system. Through scientific study, he proved that meditation reduced the effects of stress. Although scientific study has shown that yogis actually don’t stop their heart, many studies have been done showing that they can significantly reduce their heartrate and blood flow. The long-term practice of yoga has also been shown to lead to a lower resting heart rate. (See William J. Broad‘s excellent book “The Science of Yoga” for a further investigation.)
As per Benson’s site, to practice the Relaxation Response:
Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
Close your eyes.
Deeply relax all your muscles, beginning at your feet and progressing up to your face. Keep them relaxed
Breathe through your nose. Become aware of your breathing. As you breathe out, say the word, “one“*, silently to yourself. For example, breathe in … out, “one“,- in .. out, “one“, etc. Breathe easily and naturally.
Continue for 10 to 20 minutes. You may open your eyes to check the time, but do not use an alarm. When you finish, sit quietly for several minutes, at first with your eyes closed and later with your eyes opened. Do not stand up for a few minutes.
Do not worry about whether you are successful in achieving a deep level of relaxation. Maintain a passive attitude and permit relaxation to occur at its own pace. When distracting thoughts occur, try to ignore them by not dwelling upon them and return to repeating “one.” With practice, the response should come with little effort.
Practice the technique once or twice daily, but not within two hours after any meal, since the digestive processes seem to interfere with the elicitation of the Relaxation Response.
On a side note, tigers are endangered and there are fewer than 3,500 left in the wild. The World Wildlife Fund and Leonardo DiCaprio are initiating a campaign to double that number by 2022, the next year of the Tiger. Help out if you can.