The Two Types of Stress
Did you know that there are two different types of stress? And that one of these types of stress is much more damaging to our sleep? We hear about flight or fight, but recently psychologists have found that flight stress and fight stress is handled differently in the body. Even more importantly than that, we are able to BY THE WAY WE THINK ABOUT OUR STRESSOR, change whether our body interprets our stress as bad or good. This in turn can make the difference between us being able to recover from stress by sleeping, or whether we are so stressed that we are unable to sleep.
We can think about our “Fight Stress” as a challenge. Something that takes all of our resources, but that we have a chance to win at. This could be a fight in the playground, the bedroom or the boardroom, but the significant thing here is that we feel we have a chance and thus our body gears up to fight. A fight is something that has an end to it, and after the fight is over, we relax. This is why mild or moderate fight stress is less damaging to our bodies: it doesn’t endure, but rather comes to an end, and then we can rest, digest, heal, grow and repair. Our body needs this time off from stress in order to do maintenance on itself. Which is precisely what sleep is for.
Stress where we DON’T have a chance against our stressor triggers a flight rather than fight response. Instead of gearing up to fight, we gear up to run. This kind of stress could also be called threat or fear. The problem with this stress is that in our modern age, our flight or fear response can be triggered by things that are psychological and ongoing. Rather than running away from an animal and then relaxing when the threat is over, we live under constant stress sometimes manufactured by our own minds. Our relationships, job, financial situation, worries about the future, can all trigger us into a flight-like state. But these things may never go away, and the more we think about them, the worse our stress becomes.
Sleep and Stress
Research has shown that people with chronic insomnia experience high cortisol levels 24 hours a day. Cortisol is designed to stimulate our wake response, to get us active and moving. So it is understandable that if you are having cortisol moving through your blood stream round the clock, it is going to be more difficult to sleep.
Learning How to Relax
The ability to relax is not something we just need on the weekend or on a holiday. It really is a survival skill, because without the ability to relax, our body is not able to rest, digest and repair. Sleep is a key part of the rest, digest and repair cycle, but without the ability to relax, we can find it difficult to sleep.
Changing your Mind
Meditation, counselling and relaxation training can all help us to improve our relaxation skills. To start with, we need to recognise the times when we are mentally viewing a source of stress as a threat. Problem solving is a great skill but rumination, when we are thinking about the same worry, threat or problem over and over again, is like hitting your head against a brick wall. The first step to breaking this habit is to realise you are doing it, naming it, then substituting either another kind of thinking or another focus. For example, if you are worrying about an upcoming meeting instead of thinking “I’m going to fail miserably and make a fool of myself” you could acknowledge that you are feeling butterflies in your stomach and call that excitement, imagining that you are going to do really well at the meeting as the excitement you are feeling will help you to prepare and present with energy. Many self-defeating habits can become self-supporting ones, we just need to take the time to notice what we are thinking, find a healthier option and replace, replace, replace.
Changing your Body
We can’t swap our bodies for a better one, but we can train ourselves to react differently by training ourselves how to relax. Meditation and yoga are two ways to do this. The sleep relaxation techniques I teach my sleep clients are an even MORE effective way to train yourself to relax, as this training can be done during the day AND at night for great results on your waking stress levels as well as your ability to sleep.
To summarise,if you can RELAX after your stressful event, switch off your worrying and SLEEP, this gives your body the best chance to recover and heal. If you find that your sleep is affected by your stress, you may be experiencing your stress as threat or fear. To counteract this, try to change how you are thinking about your stressor, and consciously train yourself to relax. Once you have trained yourself to relax, you will be able to sleep when you need to, recover from your stress, and meet your next challenge with excitement!
The Bali Sleep and Relax Kit is an invaluable tool in training yourself to relax. Learn what to do in the morning, during the day and at night, to reduce your stress and cultivate the ability to fall asleep despite the challenges you face. Get your Bali Sleep and Relax Kit from the Shop tab above.
Or if you're in Perth and would like to be part of a boutique face to face event, come along to our Relax and Restore workshop. You can book tickets or learn more here: