How the Body Works
Most of us take our bodies for granted, especially when we're young. We don't really think about what going on inside until something goes wrong, or changes occur. As children approach the teenage years and move on into adulthood there are a lot of physical changes . Because of these big changes you can experience dramatic changes in moods too.
If the body needs to make changes of any kind, for example during puberty, pregnancy or as part of the female menstrual cycle, even to grow taller, our body uses hormones. It helps to see these as a kind of messenger, so that the body knows what it is supposed to do, or how it is supposed to change. At times of change, when we have lots of hormones flying around our bodies, it can make us feel a bit strange, sometimes moody or happy; or irritated and vulnerable.
Another way in which hormones can send the message for change, is when we get stressed. Why do you think they need to make something in the body change when we are stressed? Well, remember our bodies are our friends and everything that our body does is to help us, even when we are ill and we have a temperature, this is so that the germs or virus in your body will be killed by the high heat. The immune system is strengthened through the series of reactions which happen in the body as part of the process of fever, (such as producing more white blood cells). People with strong immune systems will be more likely to get a fever to fight off illness.
This is what the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) says about fever.
"Fever is not an illness, rather, it is a symptom of sickness and is usually a positive sign that the body is fighting infection." Check out this medical link
Human bodies are very clever and they know what to do in all sorts of situations. For instance, if we were being chased by a lion down the street, we would need to be able to run really fast and to think really quickly about what to do, so that we could get away. What happens is that our body goes into what we call 'fight or flight' mode, by activating the Sympathetic nervous system. This involves the release of a combination of different hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol which do things like speed up our heart beat and our breathing, this means that the heart can get fresh blood with lots of new oxygen in it to all the muscles which need oxygen to be able to help you run fast. More oxygen to your brain helps you think quickly and the adrenaline makes you more awake and alert for quick thinking too. This is great, our bodies really can help us to run away quickly from the lion! But come on, seriously, how often is that going to happen? What is the equivalent situation in our modern day society?
There are other situations, (which as a young person today you are more likely to come across) and in which this body response can be helpful. For instance, it can help you to run better in school sports day if you are feeling a bit nervous, and can be useful to be a bit nervous before exams, as the adrenaline can help your brain to be more awake.
Stress hormones are not always useful!
The problem is when we get nervous or stressed about something and we don't need to run anywhere, we might just keep worrying about something and then that stress and worrying could stop us from going to sleep because of the adrenaline which makes us alert, ready to run away from any stray lions.Well thankfully no lion is going to be chasing you, so the adrenaline is not needed; therefore we need to find a way to help us relax, because being stressed for too long can be bad for the body.
How does it feel?
Think about how your body feels when you are stressed or nervous, where do you feel different? You might feel like your belly is all tight like a knot, it can give you a stomach ache, or even make you feel sick. You might feel it in your neck and shoulders as a tightness or stiffness, maybe a head ache. Generally it's not a great feeling and not something we would like to feel over a long period of time as it can lead to worse problems. The best thing is to try and learn to control your reaction to stress. You see your body doesn't know the difference between a lion chasing you and you worrying and getting stressed about some problem at school. It will still give you the same hormones it does to get away from the lion anyway.
Stress Relieving Techniques
- Focus on your breath: This is so simple and easy to do, you don't even have to change the way you breathe just notice it in a friendly way, your breathing is your friend. If you want you can take some slow deep breaths and try breathing out through your mouth as if you were blowing out a candle, it's very calming. Modern science has shown that breathing deeply and slowly can calm us down and relax us very quickly. It helps the body to send out different hormones which start to calm us down and stop all the stress hormones from doing their jobs, if they are not needed, by sending out different hormones which tell the body to relax. Important neurotransmitters of this kind are called endorphins like Serotonin and Dopamine or you could just say feel good hormones.
- Mindfulness and meditation: Can help you to relax and to take a step back from your worries. Focusing on your breathing is a way of being mindful. Read the section on 'How to train your brain' to find out more about mindfulness and meditation, also the section called 'Can't sleep' will give you some suggestions for ways to help yourself relax.
- How does it help? : What meditation or mindfulness does is to help you take the attention away from the whirling mass of thoughts that can spin around in your mind. They do this by giving your mind something else to focus on, like your breathing. Or by imagining that you are somewhere else like a forest or a beach (don't do this during your Maths lesson!!). In walking meditation you focus on your feet going up and down from the ground. What's good is that the more you practice meditation, the easier it becomes to control your reaction to stress. There are many different ways of practising mindfulness.
So you see, although our bodies do their best to help us deal with life, sometimes they need a bit of help from us to get back to feeling balanced again, especially through the changing time of growing up into being an adult, when there are a lot of hormones flying around our bodies which can make us feel like we're on a roller- coaster of emotions, or when things are busy, stressful and we've got a lot of changes going on in our lives.
During these times it's helpful to have a few techniques up your sleeve to get yourself back to feeling calm and to reassure your body that there is no lion chasing you after all and its okay to relax.
All SMART Coaching (Stress Management And Relaxation Techniques) are designed to provide excellent and relevant quality well-being and mindfulness training, mindfulness training in schools or with young minds and intuition, insight mindfulness training across all sectors.