By Lisa Manning, , CST, CHt

We have little power to choose what happens in life, but we have complete power over how we respond to challenges. It’s not stress that kills us, it’s our reaction to it.

When a stressful situation occurs, the sympathetic nervous system is triggered and we enter into the infamous ‘fight or flight’ mode. The body is ready to fight, defend or protect itself.

At this point the higher mind needs to step in and mediate: “OK guys, let’s take a minute to calm down and think this through.” Learning how to respond (versus reacting) appropriately to a situation is vital to your health…

The difference between a response and a reaction may seem subtle, but each feels very different… and, usually, each yields very different results.

A reaction comes from the fears and beliefs of the unconscious mind. It (the reaction) tries to shift the discomfort of the moment and doesn’t take into consideration the consequences. Reacting might be cathartic in the moment, but doing so often leads to regret from fear- or anger-based actions that aren’t well thought out.

Choosing to respond (instead of reacting) is a controlled reflection of our values and who we want to be in the world. Choose is the power word in this scenario.

Unless you’re actually being chased by a tiger, the best first response is to take at least one deep and full breath in and out. The more deep breaths, the better. This signals the nervous system to turn down the heat, and to turn up the parasympathetic response of ‘rest and recover.’

Deep breathing creates the mental space and calm (breathing room!) needed to choose the most appropriate response; and, it also helps protect against the harmful effects of chronic stress.

‘Tend and befriend’ is another type of response that has been recently recognized. Oxytocin is released when we give or receive physical and emotional support. It’s the euphoria we feel when we fall in love and the healing power of a sincere hug. This is the cheapest medicine on the market!

Ways to Respond rather than React

Start with breath – This is the simplest and most powerful tool for slowing down an out of control nervous system response.

Look within – Make a habit of examining thoughts before they become words or actions. What’s really behind these feelings? What will this action get me? Is that what I really want?

Stay centered – The best decisions come from a healthy combination of emotion and intellect. We don’t have to turn off our feelings in order to moderate our responses.

Recognize choices – There are always options. Work on choosing the actions that create the outcomes you truly desire.

Each time you’re able to consciously and successfully respond to stress the process gets easier! “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” You will literally create new neural pathways in the brain that will help you to continually develop lifelong healthy-coping habits.

And, be generous with the hugs!

Lisa is a licensed Craniosacral Therapist. She’s also a Master Certified Hypnotherapist, specializing in Somato-Emotional Hypnosis to address chronic pain and anxiety.