by Fiona Lam
We’re suspended 12000ft in the air, and the red light by the door starts flashing to cue the moment that I’ve been waiting for.
My heart starts to pound, my breath becomes shallow and my entire body is trembling in anticipation. The door slides open and we get a blast of the frosty crisp air.
“Just shuffle forward towards the door”, instructs my dive master.
I am now acutely aware that I am hanging out the edge of the plane. I try my best to control the flood of adrenaline pulsating through my body and mind. I take one last deep breath and…JUMP!
The Physiology Of Sky Diving
The physiological changes I experienced from skydiving last week was a normal stress response where a stressor/threat – in this case, jumping out of a plane – triggered the pituitary gland and adrenal medulla in the brain to signal a release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands (this includes but isn’t limited to adrenaline).
The release of stress hormones activates the sympathetic nervous system. Its primary function is to stimulate a physiological reaction known as the “Flight or Fight” response to a perceived harmful event, attack or threat to survival. Once the sympathetic nervous system is activated, various bodily functions are triggered such as:
· Increased heart rate
· Rapid breathing
· Increased blood glucose levels
· Muscle and blood vessel constriction
· Suppression of digestion
In a healthy stress response, the parasympathetic nervous system or “Rest and Digest” is activated once the perceived threat is no longer present, enabling the body to maintain normal bodily functions and digestion.
Flight Or Fight In Every Day Life
The Flight or Fight response is a mechanism that all living organisms are equipped with. It’s designed to help us adapt to stress and survive. It is also designed to be a short-term response.
But what happens to our bodies and minds when the flight or fight response becomes long-term, due to a constant exposure to stress….
Well, chronically elevated stress hormones create serious dysfunction to the body’s natural processes and cause a range of health problems that I commonly treat clients for.
Examples of every day stressors that our body perceives as a threat (besides choosing to jump out of a plane!) can include:
· Emotional stress
· Busy lifestyle
· Deadline pressures
· Financial struggles
· Relationship problems
· Chronic health conditions
· Constant pain
· Certain medications
· Poor diet
· Stimulants – sugar, alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes and drugs.
How To Build Physical And Mental Resilience Against Stress
Here are some simple tips on how you can help yourself adapt more efficiently to stress:
Getting 8 hours of sleep a night because the main function of sleep is to allow the body to restore and repair itself.
Prioritizing time for rest and play – What we don’t value as important in our lives will always be put aside for things that may feel urgent but don’t actually matter.
Choose to eat a balanced diet with healthy ratios of complex carbohydrates, fats, protein and vegetables to provide adequate nutrition for optimal bodily function.
Limit coffee, sugar and alcohol intake to reduce unnecessary irritants to the nervous system.
Practicing meditation and mindfulness – This will help you stay present instead of constantly chasing the future, which tends to cultivate stressful emotions such as worry, inefficiency, overwhelm and the tendency to overthink.
Exercise – physical activity releases mood chemicals called endorphins that reduce stress and have painkiller-like effects on the body.
Self-acceptance - Stop being so hard on yourself and show a bit of kindness instead!
However, if you are still struggling to feel balanced, the support of a healthcare practitioner will ensure that you’re on the right track.
Personally, I integrate regular treatments with my osteopath, acupuncturist and NET practitioner as a part of my lifestyle even though I’m a health practitioner myself. I find that it helps to maintain my wellness, which is one of my top priorities.
Leaping out of a plane might seem a bit extreme (or as one of my clients put it - “Fiona! You’re off your chops!”) but I’m a big believer in embracing fear. It proves that your limiting beliefs of – “I can’t” – are simply, false.
Also the sense of achievement that you get makes you feel ALIVE. Or in my case, good to still be alive!