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  • Writer's pictureMind Freedom Fighter

Are You Thriving Or Just Surviving?

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

Move from stress to relaxation in a breath
Are You Thriving or Just Surviving?

While some of us are still coming to terms with the shorter days and longer nights in the Southern hemisphere, many of us South Africans are also trying to adjust to the reality of ongoing load shedding. Last night, while sitting in front of the fire and making my way through 4 hours of no power, I marvelled at the resilience, flexibility and sheer inner strength of human beings. Throughout time we have demonstrated an ability to adapt to challenging situations and find new ways of living and even thriving under the circumstances.

I marvelled at the resilience, adaptability and sheer inner strength of human beings.

Have you noticed that when you face setbacks or any type of adversity your first reaction is shock, disbelief, resistance, overwhelm or sadness? But then something changes. In time, there is a moment when you start to pull yourself together. When you've had enough of feeling mad, sad or frustrated. When you're tired of being stuck in the same negative or stressful state and you deliberately choose to make a change, no matter how subtle. I call this the Golden Moment. When we consciously choose to think and feel differently which then alters our experience of whatever is happening. Ideally we'd like to get to the Golden Moment as quickly as possible but sometimes it takes time to process what we're going through and other times we're so stuck in the stress of the situation that it is difficult to move out of it. Our ability to make the transition from a state of survival to 'thrival' has a lot to do with how balanced our nervous system is.

In order to explain this further I'd like to shift the focus inwards so you get an understanding of the cascade of feelings and reactions that take place in your body. You see, just like all other living creatures on this planet, we are wired for survival. We instinctively employ coping strategies and survival mechanisms to help us face adversity. The 'home' of our survival instinct sits in the limbic system in our brain. When we detect a threat it switches on our fight, flight or freeze response which instantly changes our physiology: our heart beats faster, blood is sent from our organs to our extremities, our digestive and immune systems shut down, our emotions become heightened and our logic disappears. We are mentally and physically preparing ourselves to face danger. Now, when we were still hunters and gatherers this would have been extremely useful when stumbling across a wild eyed, dangerous predator. However, in modern times the same part of our brain is activated when we deal with a lot of our everyday stressors like a full inbox, traffic, paying bills, pinging messages and yes, you got it, load shedding! We're not in danger, we're just stressed out.

We're not in danger. We're just stressed out.

Now it's not good for our physical and mental health to operate in the fight/flight/freeze response for extended periods of time so when our brain no longer registers a threat, our rest and digest system is switched on, bringing about a sense of calm and clarity. In this state our heart rate normalises, our digestive and immune systems begin to function properly once again and our prefrontal cortex comes back online. We start to see things more clearly and logically. We are able to plan ahead, make adjustments, regulate our emotions and generally feel like we have some sort of control over the situation. So using the load shedding example, while it may be difficult coming to terms with having no power for 8 hours of the day, we plan our life around it, buy generators, inverters or torches that can light up a room for a few hours or even purchase a great bottle of wine to be enjoyed with family and friends. What I'm pointing to is that there is both a physical and mental shift from feeling threatened & stressed to feeling functional & calm.

This shift only happens when our brain perceives the danger to be over. I say 'perceives' because our brain is reacting to the sensory information it receives as well as the tension in our body and the thoughts circulating in our mind. So it makes sense that the sooner we can calm our bodies and manage our thinking, the quicker our brain is assured that the threat has subsided and can then continue with its normal functioning of thinking, processing, creating, digesting and balancing.

For many of us living in the world today our nervous systems are completely out of balance. Our stress response is way too active and our recharging, healing & social bonding system is sadly underactive. This means the Golden Moment is not easy to come by because we are stuck in high autonomic arousal. Ideally, we want to regulate our autonomic nervous system so we can return to a baseline level of calm and relaxation. The good news is that we don't have to go outside of ourselves to do this. We can bring about balance and regulation simply by changing our breath. A well known technique that I use to create equilibrium and wellbeing is Coherent Breathing.

The Golden Moment is not easy to come by because we are stuck in high autonomic arousal.

It's simple - a slow, inhale through your nose to the count of 5 or 6 (whichever is more comfortable) and a slow exhale through your nose to the count of 5 or 6. I breathe this way for 5 minutes in the morning, midday and evening. I love that I don't have to stop what I'm doing in order to pratise. I can do this when I'm driving, cooking, showering... Research shows that if you consciously breathe this way within 4-6 weeks you could experience improved cardiovascular health, reduced stressed, increased mental clarity, enhanced emotional and physical well being we well as improved sleep.

So the question you should ask yourself is, "Am I thriving or just surviving? " Take time with this question in order to sense the state of both your body and your mind. How are you thinking, feeling and then acting? Is it from a place of fear or from a place of peace? Then engage your nervous system by breathing deeply, slowly and evenly for a few minutes and begin to experience a sense of balance come over you. You'll notice a space begins to open. This is the playground of the Golden Moment.

Remember, while coherent breathing can be beneficial, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional if you have any underlying medical conditions or concerns before incorporating it into your routine.

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