Updated: Sep 10, 2020
In a world that’s changing by the minute, it’s natural that we’re feeling more stressed than usual. Whenever we’re triggered by stress, our bodies operate on fight or flight mode — constantly releasing cortisol and adrenaline.
The part of our nervous system that’s activated under stress is the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which allows us to take quick action, work hard, and GSD (get sh*t done — for lack of a better term). Although hard work and accomplishment are beneficial in moving our businesses and lives forward, they can be extremely damaging to the body and mind if they’re in overdrive. According to a study referenced by Harvard, “chronic stress contributes to high blood pressure, promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits, and causes brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction.”
What’s more is that stress can come in all different forms as it’s not only triggered by external factors, such as the state of the world, job loss, and familial situations. Stress can also be caused by internal factors like negative thoughts, the need to be perfect, lack of flexibility, pessimism, and the unnecessary pressure we often put on ourselves. Indeed, a 2019 survey found that Americans were among the most stressed people in the world.
While stress is universal, it looks different for everyone. Sometimes stress can appear as low energy or insomnia, and other times it can escalate to isolation or headaches. One thing that stress tends to affect across the board? Our attitudes.
Energetically, most people live in catabolic energy when under stress. I first learned about this energy concept from Bruce Schneider, the founder of iPEC. Schneider describes catabolic energy as emotions like anger, anxiety, fear, doubt, depression, insecurity, and says it’s useful for helping to protect us from short-term dangers. The kicker, however, is that the longer you’re triggered by stress, the more you end up living in (and persisting in) these states.
One way to counter catabolic energy is by triggering the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and giving your mind and body a break. The PNS gets activated when you participate in activities that put you in a state of relaxation and let your nervous system hit the reset button. Accessible experiences include things like yoga, meditation, breathwork, and more. Calming mechanisms and stress-relieving tools can help you bring your energy back to equilibrium and bring your body back to balance.
To regularly manage stress, the goal is not to live in any extreme or on one side of the pendulum. It’s critical to blend activities that stimulate and balance your nervous systems and energy states.
So, to soothe catabolic energy, you need a healthy balance of anabolic energy. Schneider describes this energy as being growth-oriented and rejuvenating, which helps you achieve your long-term goals. This sustainable energy can include emotions like joy, peace, passion, compassion, excitement, love, and enthusiasm. When you activate anabolic energy, it can be extremely powerful by motivating you forward through inspiration and motivation rather than force. This positive energy naturally fuels growth and helps you move forward in a lighter, less pressurized way — yet you still need catabolic energy to fight out imminent dangers.
How do you balance both energy states and not be constantly stressed?
My suggestion is to practice becoming self-aware of your energy states. Name them. Notice them. The more often you can access your higher states of energy and harness that energy for good, the more you can get done, while simultaneously experiencing less stress. If you know you tend to feel anxious, embrace more moments of creativity, calm, and pleasure. By tracking your catabolic energy triggers, you can regulate your energy state by countering with something joyful or simply taking more breaks and investing more time for yourself. A good rule of thumb is to find joy in the little things and note the positive aspects of your life so that when the negative is triggered, it feels less daunting.
Another helpful idea is to have coping mechanisms and strategies (like some go-to meditations) on hand to help balance daily stresses. Don’t be discouraged if one person’s coping mechanism doesn’t work for you. Keep trying different calming techniques until you find ones that work for you. The more you can practice being truly present and actively access your higher states of energy, the more relief you can find from the uncertainty of the days and weeks that lie ahead. Stress does not need to be your constant. The better you become at naming your mood and shifting your mindset, the better you can become at choosing your attitude.