I take comfort in science. Not the curl up with a blanket and hot-cocoa kind of comfort. I take solace in having what I feel be validated by evidence-based research.
Like many households across the world, 2020 was a tough one at Chez Ogden. In many ways, being stuck in captivity was a positive, experiential reminder of what matters most. But as the constraints make their way into 2021, I am equally reminded of the toxic toll of stress.
Cost of Captivity
Allostasis describes the process of achieving stability by distributing the impact of stress across a variety of systems. Spreading the love helps us survive and increases our resiliency toward future challenges. Health-enhancing behaviors like restful sleep, good nutrition, regular exercise and meditation support our capacity for balanced allostatic responses. Which, we know, promotes resiliency.
However, chronic, repetitive, or overwhelming stress can turn into toxic stress when our systems are unable to digest the surplus. Because everything is connected, it leaves multiple systems depleted of energy, struggling to return to homeostasis. And that’s when little things suddenly become big things.
With that in mind, please know that what defines an event as traumatic is individually determined. No one else can label another’s experience. Constitution, genetic disposition, history of previous stressful experiences, and availability of supportive relationships all influence how we manage stress.
All Work and No Play
In a classic Simpson’s episode, the creators pay homage to The Shining by having Homer lose it when no TV or beer are available on their family vacation. After a year plus of living in captivity with little outlet for fun or joy, I can relate. Here is where science comes galloping in.
It’s human to flail when drowning in toxic stress.
If we’re experiencing a daily dose of allostatic overload, even run-of-the-mill stress like a small burn while cooking can become a stick of dynamite. Boom! We blow up. This response, in turn, impacts other systems creating a chain reaction of pain and disruptive behavior.
It’s All Connected
While this news isn’t a cozy comfort, reading about allostatic stress normalized my experience and helped me rally compassion and much needed self-care. I long suspected my aching knees and back pain were related to stress, but I couldn’t prove it. Thanks to science, I don’t have to.
Natural selection has yet to catch up to industrialization. We’re still wired for the wild. Until ANS 2.0 comes out, learning how to manage stress is a survival skill we must all learn. Challenges are a part of life and balancing our allostatic load can be thought of as the price we pay for modernity. Since neither are going away, the best plan is to adapt.
To live a life of ease and grace, we must discharge toxic stress and build up our reservoirs with health-promoting habits. Reach out to a friend. Take a walk. Stay hydrated. And know you’re not alone. Not only are the systems within our bodies connected, we, too, are interconnected.