Stress experienced positively can feel exciting and useful when we are juggling multiple demands. Using our body’s adrenalin response to meet a challenge, ace a presentation or achieve a tight deadline can be both useful and satisfying.
On the flip side though, experiencing a tension headache after feeling wound up all day or getting irritable with a colleague when they need our help does not feel so great.
Mastering the ability to turn on and make use of our stress response when it is helpful to us, then dialling it back when it’s not, would have to be one of our most important self-management skills, and life skills.
One of the most powerful ways we can strengthen this ability is by using techniques that are designed to facilitate our mind’s capacity to affect bodily function and symptoms. Mind and body are inextricably linked and the interaction between them can produce significant physical changes – both positive and negative.
Such techniques are called mind-body interventions (MBIs) and include yoga, mindfulness meditation and deliberate diaphragmatic breathing.
An exciting study published recently in the journal Frontiers in Immunology reported on a systematic review of over a decade’s worth of clinical studies on the benefits of mind-body interventions. The study demonstrated that use of MBIs is a powerful way to curtail our seemingly hard-wired stress responses. Chronic stress responses are a problem because, over time, they lead to persistent, pro-inflammatory gene expression and are therefore more likely to cause physical and mental health problems.
The study also reported evidence that, as well as reducing the stress response, MBIs can influence our personal “molecular signature”. This is the unique way our genes activate to produce proteins which influence the biological make-up of our body, brain and immune system:
The benefits begin at a molecular level and can change the way our genetic code goes about its business. These (MBIs’) activities are leaving what we call a molecular signature in our cells, which reverses the effect that stress or anxiety would have on the body by changing how our genes are expressed. Put simply, MBIs cause the brain to steer our DNA processes along a path which improves our wellbeing.
To experience these benefits for ourselves, there are two actions we can take. Firstly, make the practice of MBIs an essential part of your daily routine. You may want to try out different ones and find the intervention that is most effective for you, or perhaps the one you enjoy the most and are more likely to feel motivated to include in your day.
Secondly, we can benefit from MBIs “on the go”. Pay attention to your body and your emotions at regular intervals through the day. Notice when physical and emotional changes don’t feel good to you. Ask yourself, “Is this response helpful for me right now/in this situation?” If it is, carry on! If it’s not, take a pause in your day for some walking mindfulness, or find a quiet room to do a few yoga poses, or even breathe slowly and deeply for a few minutes.
The more we practise, regularly, and “on the go”, the more familiar the interventions will become to our body and brain—and the more strongly we will notice the benefits.
See you at yoga!