Thriving Blog & Magazine

Stress IS Everywhere

Shannon Allison

DPT, MT • Licensed Physical Therapist

Everywhere these days, it seems people are more and more stressed out. 

The intense energy of the state of the world and the drain of our long haul through COVID seems to be getting worse rather than better. People are being challenged, not only with dealing with the stress of their formative years, but with the stress of family, romantic, personal and professional relationships, AND the collective stress of the world and those they are surrounded by. It is for me and our Thrive team, better to be part of an answer to help improve a situation than to do nothing and be part of a problem.

However, doing that right now seems to be especially challenging – like fighting a tidal wave! Right now, it is helpful to remember Einstein’s principle that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only change form. Recognizing that the energetic load of living right now is higher, lets me expect less of myself.

Getting through what used to be a normal day, sometimes, takes twice the energy that it used to, and with that I need to plan my schedule around being less productive, not more. More stress during the day ideally means there should be more time allocated during that day for stress discharge.

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Remember, relaxation takes TIME! Plan for that! Plan for the time to discharge the stress response as well as doing your relaxation activities. 

Thus, it is important to understand how the nervous system discharges stress. In this, we can learn from polar bears and Lissa Wheeler. In her book Engaging Resilience, she describes how a polar bear, after being chased, tranquilized and tagged for research, releases the stress of this experience when he wakes up. The part of our nervous system that resets us after stressful experiences is in an ancient part of our brain very closely related to the polar bear’s brain, the autonomic nervous system or ANS. This system has NO connection to our higher thinking, planning and reasoning centers.

It is impossible to think your stress away. The part of the ANS that resets after stressful experiences is specifically the parasympathetic portion. The parasympathetic response is sensation driven. It monitors the environment for safety and soothing sensations and experiences. After a long enough period of time that is filled with experiencing enough safe, pleasant soothing sensations, the parasympathetic system allows the stress to discharge and the person or animal to get up and walk away refreshed.

From a PRI perspective, FAST short breaths engage the stress response, SLOW long breaths engage the stress discharge response. If you monitor your breathing pattern, your inner polar bear will tell you if you are in stress response or stress discharge. In this I agree with the famous dancer Martha Graham, who states “the body never lies”.  Unsurprisingly she was the daughter of a psychologist! 

A key concept to understand is that your animal brain, or inner polar bear, is ALWAYS watching, ever vigilant as to the condition of the environment around you and this INCLUDES watching the videos of thoughts, feelings and emotions projected to it by all other parts of your brain. If your inner polar bear sees a video of all the tasks you have to do that day, how overwhelmed and tired you feel, how you may be feeding your body quick fix foods to get through the day, capped off with a disagreement with one of your family members, that bear is going to fight, run, or both. If the bear sees a video of the beautiful sun filtering through the clouds in the sky, the spring breeze on your face, the warm hug from a family member and a nice hot bath after a healthy satisfying dinner, that bear is going to curl up on a rug and nap.

My strong recommendation is to cultivate a pleasant video of good experiences involving sensation wherever possible. No one ever complains about being too relaxed and happy! Wherever possible, have a REAL hot bath as an example, however, imagining a hot bath ALSO calms the inner polar bear. Luckily we can use these sensational videos to help us live more freely during this time, useful during rush hour traffic.

Focus on your breath and the skies, not on all those cars jammed together. Imagine as many other details of your favorite experience where afterwards you have felt relaxed. Your inner polar bear will smile. This redirection of the mind and emotions decreases stress build up. If you DO recognize that you are in a stress response, remember, release that stress first before trying to reset. Clean, exercise, chop wood, crush bubble wrap, swear at the plants…whatever you need to do first and then begin your relaxation activities for best results. BREATHE! 

We are all in this together, don’t hesitate to reach out to our Thrive family—cheers to less stress!

Thriving Magazine October 2022 Issue 16

Thriving Magazine • Issue 16

Our October issue looks how we can make positive changes in our mindset and behaviors over the last 90 days of the year so we're starting 2023 with a head start (and skipping the resolutions!). Enjoy!

Articles are written by our experts in physical therapy, fitness training, chiropractic care. nutrition, massage, acupuncture, Chinese medicine, and energy healing.


Our mission is to inspire, equip and move clients to transform, redefine or optimize their health.

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