Fitness Magazine

What Happens When Your Life Changes

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina

What Happens When Your Life Changes

Four Seasons: Winter by Peter Max*

What was it like when you fell in love? Kind of scary, right? I remember being elated but at the same time getting very little sleep, losing my appetite, losing my ability to concentrate, and even being very physically shaky. I think that’s because falling in love, even when the feeling is returned—or maybe especially when the feeling is returned—has the potential to be a life changing experience. So for most of us, it’s quite unsettling. 
Stressors are external or internal events that stimulate your nervous system. So if you think about it, any kind of significant change in your life is a stressor. While we tend to think of stressors being negative changes, such as losing your job, getting a divorce, being stuck in traffic, having your house burn down, or losing someone close to you, any kind of significant change causes stress. So stressors include many types of positive changes, such as getting married, having baby, starting a new job, moving to a new city, performing on stage, and so on. For example, I remember after my first day nerve racking day at a job that I really wanted—which meant working full time on site after a number of years of consulting from home—I just crawled home I was so exhausted and I said to my husband jokingly, “Can I quit yet?”
When I say that stressors “stimulate your nervous system,” I mean that your sympathetic nervous system (the fight and flight side of your nervous system) is activated. And the more significant the change is (in your mind, that is—not everyone experiences the same types of changes in the same ways), the more your sympathetic nervous system is stimulated and the more “stress” you experience. 
In my post Coming into Balance: How Stress and Relaxation Work Together, I described how your autonomic nervous system, which controls background processes that keep your body alive and healthy, such breathing, maintaining normal temperature, and adjusting blood pressure to match activity, is divided into two subsystems: your sympathetic nervous system and your parasympathetic nervous system. And these two subsystems work together in tandem, providing you with a healthy balance of activity and relaxation. 
But when you’re experiencing stress, your sympathetic nervous system moves you out of a state of balance. Because you’re facing a challenge of some sort, your nervous system prepares your body and mind for action by stimulating your heart to beat faster and stronger and slightly raising your blood pressure to improve blood flow, by opening your airways so you can breathe more easily, and by stimulating your thought processes so you can assess your situation and think more quickly. And in extreme situations—where serious action on your part is needed—your sympathetic nervous system triggers the fight or flight response. In this state, your sympathetic nervous system actually turns off the background functions of nourishment, restoration, and healing that are provided by the parasympathetic nervous system because these functions will slow you down. 
Because your nervous system can’t really distinguish between positive and negative changes (although, of course, you can still distinguish between them mentally and emotionally), you’re probably going to experience some similar stress “symptoms,” such as poor digestion, poor sleep, a racing mind, or whatever your typical stress symptoms are, whether you are experiencing positive or negative changes. 
I think it’s important to recognize all this. Because yoga provides many different options for bringing your nervous system back into balance (or closer to balance because, yeah, sometimes you can only calm yourself down so much), this means you can use it whenever changes you’re experiencing in your life—positive or negative—present you with some uncomfortable symptoms. 
For physical symptoms, any of our stress management tools (see The Relaxation Response and Yoga) can help trigger the relaxation response to balance your nervous system. So choose whichever ones you prefer or that you personally find more effective. 
If your situation is chronic (see About Stress: Acute versus Chronic), using these stress management practices can be especially important because they help prevent serious illnesses and physical problems caused by chronic stress, such as heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), digestive disorders, headaches, chronic anxiety or depression, weakened immune system.
Because one of the symptoms of stress is a racing or obsessive mind that tends to focus on only a few possibilities (see Stress and Your Thought-Behavior Repertoire), using yoga to quiet your mind may be especially beneficial during times of change. When you’re calmer, your thoughts are more expansive and include a wider range of possibilities, so this can help you be less impulsive and make choices that are more in line with your values and your goals in life. For this purpose, you may find that practices that engage your mind, such as meditation, breath practices, and guided relaxation practices will slow down your racing mind and/or calm obsessive thinking and improve your decision making abilities. 
Although practicing stress management every day is a good idea to help your baseline stress levels low, consider that when you are going through any kind of life changes, positive or negative, focusing more on stress management can help you deal with the change with more equanimity. After all, the Bhagavad Gita defines a yogi as:  
“Who unperturbed by changing conditions sits apart and watches and says “the powers of nature go round”, and remains firm and shakes not. —trans. by Juan Mascaro

What Happens When Your Life Changes

Four Seasons: Spring by Peter Max*

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