Tame the tiger – manage your stress

Tips to tame stressOur brains are hard-wired, which helped us survive in primitive times. We’re programmed to handle acute stress just as we would a hungry tiger that’s gaining on us. Whether we live to tell the tale or become dinner, an encounter with a tiger is over fast. But what happens if a “tiger” camps on our doorstep for days, weeks or months? When that happens, our bodies break down and our health suffers.

Hold that tiger

When you experience acute stress – like meeting a tiger – your brain puts your body into a fight-or-flight state. You can easily recognize this condition in yourself and others if you know what to look for.

You can train yourself to reverse the state and decrease the amount of stress on your body, says Moira Mulhern, PhD, co-founder and director of Turning Point: The Center for Hope and Healing.

Symptoms of fight-or-flight state 

  • Pupils dilate. 
  • Breathing becomes shallow.
  • Heart rate increases; blood pressure rises.
  • Palms are sweaty.
  • Hands and feet get very cold.
  • Saliva becomes sticky. 
Once you’ve identified the symptoms of acute stress, you can teach yourself to reverse the fight-or-flight response and recover quickly from stressors. The key is to learn self-calming techniques and apply them in stressful situations. 

Take that tiger by the tail

Dr. Mulhern offers seven effective ways to calm and replenish yourself. 

  • Exercise: Even a 10-15 minute brisk walk can have an effect comparable to a tranquilizer.
  • Relaxation response: From deep breathing to meditation to yoga, there are many techniques to help you relax and rebuild your resources. Find those that work best for you.  
  • Positive self-talk: Say calming, reassuring things to yourself.
  • Calming imagery: Imagine yourself in a calming situation.
  • Soothing sounds: Listen to calming recordings, music or voices.
  • Well-grounded people: Connect with the energy of calming people. Seek out those in your life who help you rebuild your resources, and avoid those who make things worse.
  • Calming routines: Go into predictable, calming routines. In other words, do something habitual you love to do.
Turning Point: The Center for Hope and Healing is a program of The University of Kansas Hospital. Learn more.