Seinfeld fans out there may remember Kramer and Frank Costanza’s attempt at calm. Serenity now, serenity now. And yeah it worked for a minute. But establishing calm in the body is a daily practice. Because, as animals our evaluation of threat never ceases. And while our sympathetic nervous system comes to the rescue with a fight or flight response when our lives are in danger or we sense a real threat, sometimes we have a hard time powering down this hard wired pathway, depleting our capacity for stress overtime and making a state of calm harder and harder to achieve.
When we are in danger, we initiate the fight or flight reaction pathway. This pathway, beginning in the brain and quickly moving to the body when we experience fear supplies us with the energy and skills to fight for our lives or get the hell out of dodge. The amygdala, the temporal lobe region of the brain most connected to fear, sets forth a set of reactions in response to the emotional salience of our surrounding stimuli, or what stands out to us about our immediate surroundings. The hippocampus and prefrontal cortex interpret the perceived threat as real or not. If we perceive the stimuli as threatening, the amygdala triggers a release of cortisol and other stress hormones and alerts the sympathetic nervous system. This trigger sets off preparations in the body that make us more efficient in the face of danger. Our heart rate rises, pupils dilate, breathing accelerates and non-essential functioning, like digestion, slows. As animals this response is designed to only last a short period of time and we are meant to return to a state of more normal regulation. This is where our parasympathetic nervous system takes over returning our body and mind to homeostasis. But as super intelligent animals, we have learned to assess many things as a threat and this can trigger our fight or flight reaction in response to stress even when we are not in mortal danger. When the parasympathetic nervous system cannot return us to homeostasis, the body stays in a low level state of fight or flight, depleting our cortisol reserves and overtime causing a cascade of physical symptoms.
So yeah, calm is important and most of us no longer exist in bodies that can return to homeostasis without a little help. Luckily calm is a state that with work is 100% achievable. And time spent pursuing calm actually helps us be more creative, gain more clarity, and work more effectively. So if you are in a leadership position, time spent in calm, rest, and receivership, for you and your team is time well spent. Studies show that calm helps us focus on what we need to get done and enables us to get it done more quickly. In a study where participants went on an immersive nature retreat, they returned later with 50% increased creativity. There’s no shortage of exercises to help support a state of calm. I’ve placed some of my favorites in the episode notes, but guess what? Jenna is here to help too!
Listen to this episode here.