STRESS: from self – medication to self-regulation

by | Nov 1, 2017 | New this month

Every Friday afternoon I go to the Farmer’s Market and buy myself a cinnamon bun.
To me, this small act of rebellion (I usually limit my carbs during the week days) signifies the transition from the work week to weekend’s kick – back time.

I am also acutely aware that sweet treats are my way of self-medicating whenever I feel stressed, rushed, frustrated or overwhelmed {definitely a right of passage in entrepreneurial life}.

How about you?
Do you tend more toward self-regulation or self-medication?

Many Satori students mention that their weekly yoga class is the only time in their week that they actually get to slow down. That’s how this stress and self-regulation conversation got started in the first place.

What exactly is self-regulation, and how is it different from self-medication?

Most of us, no doubt, know what self-medication is. Just look at your Facebook feed…

Self-regulation, on the other hand?

Psychology Today states,

Behaviorally, self-regulation is the ability to act in your long-term best interest, consistent with your deepest values. (Violation of one’s deepest values causes guilt, shame, and anxiety, which undermine well being.)

Emotionally, self-regulation is the ability to calm yourself down when you’re upset and cheer yourself up when you’re down.

To get a clearer picture let’s talk about creatures other than human:

When they are playing or hunting, wild animals – and also our pets! – go all-out and then lie down to rest or nap immediately.

They are able to go from running and jumping at full speed (being “busy”) to relaxation in moments.  Contrast this with our inability to downshift adequately – after an activity, and for some of us, ever (as in insomnia, for example).

We are really great at using caffeine, sugar, smart phones and other stimulants to fire us up (especially at that 3-4 PM drag hour), but we are very bad at downsizing our flames and downshifting our nervous system.

Stress, compounded overtime, can lead to all sorts of physical, psychological, and neurological changes:

You probably already aware that stress heightens our perception of pain.

Did you know that stress also changes the way we recruit and use our muscles – changing our body mechanics, compressing our joints (think friction that leads to pain!), and making us move like a tin man instead of a human creature?

What can we do to go from a state of high alert of fight or flight state into a rest-and-digest mode?

One of the easiest things to do is to regulate our breathing by lengthening exhalation.

Robert Sapolski, in his fantastic book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers explains why long exhales help us downshift from a stress state into one of relaxation and restoration:

“When you exhale, the parasympathetic nervous system turns on, activating your vagus nerve in order to slow things down (this is why many forms of meditation are built around extended exhalations).”

Saploski states that it is imperative to down regulate way more often than we do, preferably at the end of each physical or psychological stressor, so we can train our nervous system to successfully self-regulate. Nervous system self-regulation is, of course, at the very heart of yoga, and especially Pain Care Yoga.

Research consistently shows that self-regulation skill is necessary for reliable emotional and physical well being.

I know we are now passed Thanksgiving, but Christmas festivities are on their way.

Think of learning to self-regulate as training for the lunacy of pre-Xmas season.

Hey, my name is Julia

Living with chronic pain has taught me to look for solutions in unlikely places –  places where most people see only problems.

Over the years I’ve gotten to be pretty good at this problem-solving and silver-lining finding thing.

So good that I felt compelled to share what I’ve learned and help others to find their sea legs while navigating, living, and winning their battle with chronic pain.