Our reaction to stress is more likely to be health promoting when we promote are ruled by wisdom. Wisdom is a skill that can be learned. Find out more.

One in ten among us is overstressed at any given moment. Stress reactions can occur when both bad as well as happy things happen. Getting a promotion or falling in love can feel stressful too, depending on our makeup. Speculative changes cause just as much stress as veritable changes. Pensiveness or anguish about whether you will get that new job can feel as stressful as being overlooked for a new position is stress.

How we react to stress, such as elevated heart rate and respiration, is governed by our autonomic (involuntary) nervous system, comprised of two opposite neurological aspects, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems.

The sympathetic division is characterized by a more yang or action-driven, on alert quality, responsible for our ‘flight or fight’ mechanisms. It becomes dominant when our mind sends signals to our body to mobilize it to action, in response to a perceived threat or danger, real or imagined. In our modern society it is often called into play in response to fear, excitement or anticipation.

You can tell when you are sympathetic dominant when you are breathing more shallow and from higher in your chest, your pulse quickens, you have a sensation of excitement (butterflies) or ‘tension’ deep in your stomach and throughout your muscle structure. You may also be perspiring (especially your hands) even though your surroundings are not too warm, or you may feel fidgety, generally ‘hyper’ and perhaps, at times, less comfortable inside.

The parasympathetic division is characterized by a more yin or nurturing quality. It is called into play during times of rest and relaxation. It favors assimilation, repair and regeneration and is dominant when our breathing is slower, more rhythmic and from lower in our chest and abdomen. There is a decrease in muscle tone, the abdomen is relaxed and comfortable, with no sense of tension in it.

We can promote the activation of our parasympathetic nervous system by being conscious of our state of mind and body. This state-of-mind awareness is called presence, and is as important to our health as anyother aspect of our lifestyle such as exercise and diet. In its simplest form, it involves attention to our body, particularly the rhythm of our breath, alert to the hypnotic rhythm of inhalation and exhalation, honoring this simple experience, developing a familiarity with our inner landscape. This anchoring our state of mind in the parasympathetic nervous system helps us move out of automatic behavior, turning the habit of automatic into the empowered skill of choosing a more mature state of mind.