Balancing Stress

Dear Stress,

Here's a note to let you know I’m doing fine without you. Thank you for checking in a few times this week with our old friend Digestive Discomfort. I assure you that you did not have to trouble yourself. Would you please find something else to do? Go do yoga or something.



As I mentioned in my last post about stress, it’s important to reconsider the benefits and aches of your relationship to stress if you wish to part with him (yes, in my creative unconscious, stress is a Him. Don’t ask me to explain.)

What we refer to as stress is in fact a normal response from the sympathetic nervous system to perceived threats, whether it be a wild beast, a bad driver, an unforeseen event, or bills.

That response in itself wouldn’t be so bad for us personally if it weren’t for the resources it borrows from other systems in the body, especially from the parasympathetic nervous system. When you feel threatened, your sympathetic nervous system calls for all resources to be directed its way so it can prepare the body to fight or run by speeding up the heart beat, dilating the pupils, drying the mouth, constricting blood vessels. You get the picture.

The nervous system comprises sub-systems, two of which are important to understand to have a better relationship with stress. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is the counterpart of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). You can think of them as two scales of a balance. When the SNS is activated the PNS loses some of its resources, and vice versa.

Ideally, you would want both sides of the balance to be roughly equal in their share of resources. The SNS controls the fight-or-flight responses. We are so well accustomed to this reaction that we barely notice it anymore. Unfortunately, we spend too much time on this side of the scale, and we forgo the necessary restorative and renewal phase of the process once the potential threat is done with.

This deprives the PNS of its resources on a regular basis. And this is where it hurts the most, because the PNS is associated to our digestive, reproductive, cardiovascular, and immune systems. Ergo, when you are always stressed-out, or “normal” as it is, you are seriously compromising your digestion (heartburn, constipation, bloating, anyone?), your capacity to have children, your heart rate (headaches, high blood pressure, anyone?), your body’s ability to protect itself from colds, flus, viruses.

Restorative Yoga aims to trigger the PNS response so it can take back its share of resources within the body. The result is a feeling of lightness, rejuvenation, and calm. After practicing Restorative Yoga, it is typical for practitioners to say that they feel clear-headed, rested, balanced, more comfortable, more open, more present.

Come and experience the wonders of Restorative Yoga with me. Check Myriam's schedule.

Dear Stress

Dear Stress,

You and I have had a long history, and I hate to leave you behind, but I’m quite frankly ready to be over with you, and I’m not alone. I’ll be happy to see you occasionally, but limit your visits to necessary occasions please, and I might even find gratitude for your existence.

Warm wishes, Myriam

It’s a long and windy road, the one that we have to take to reconsider our relationship to stress and clear it out of the way where it is not necessary. While teaching seminars on stress in corporate settings, I was struck by one constant: most of us talk about stress like it’s an enemy, a terrorist of sorts planting bombs in every street corner. Yet, most of us cannot imagine our daily lives without it.

As much as we all daydream about stress-free lives, are we really ready to shed this unfortunate friend and clear the space? Being stressed-out is the “new” normal, as Gary Kraftsow aptly observed. And it takes effort to not be “normal.”

What is your perception of people who are not stressed-out? People who have time to sleep, and eat, and read, and enjoy themselves? Chances are you’re thinking they’re lazy, flaky, they’ve won the lifestyle lottery, or maybe you think that they have it figured out why-is-it-that-I-can’t-figure-it-out-too.

The first question you need to ask yourself is: would you allow yourself to live mostly stress-free if you could? Given the option, would you feel comfortable going to work without rushing out the door, work effectively without missing a break, accomplish your home chores without sweating it, answer your four-year-old’s sixty-sixth question of the day without losing it? Are you somehow afraid of what others will think if they see you “on top of things”? Will they think I’m not working hard enough, will they think I’m not taking it seriously enough, will they think I’m flaky, irresponsible, useless?

I'll be writing to you, dear Stress. Feel free to take an extended break, you deserved it.