Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What the earthquake did to your body

Yesterday, August 23rd, 2011, the D.C. area was shook up. Since the earthquake, most of us who experienced it have recounted our "where were you when it happened" stories via text, fb, twitter, or phone with friends and family.

I want to dissect the second that I realized it wasn't me that was wobbling, it was the whole building.

I was in my home office calendarizing while listening to the video game my neighbor's kid was playing. All of a sudden, my heart was pounding, my eyes widened, and I sprang into action. Embarrassingly, my "action" was a ridiculous series of darting from room to room looking for what sounded like a rumbling truck out the window while trying to remember when the last time I ate was ("Are these the low blood sugar shakes? Quick! Banana to the rescue!").

After the quake stopped, I could still feel the adrenaline rush that had flooded my body. This natural set of physiological effects is called the Fight-or-Flight or Stress response. Here's what happens in your body in a state of stress:
  • Pupils dilate
  • Hair stands up
  • Heart pumps harder
  • Respiratory rate increases
  • Digestion slows
  • Bladder and bowels constrict
  • Endorphins are released
  • Brain activity moves to survival mode
This response is healthy IF we're actually in a situation that is threatening our life (not if a spreadsheet won't open or traffic is moving slowly). This response was only meant to last 90 seconds. The problem is, many people are feeling this stress response all day every day. When your body is in fight-or-flight mode, it leads to lack of sleep, lack of sex drive,  lack of balanced metabolism, lack of optimal immunity, and lack of emotional satiety.

The book Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers paints the picture of zebras getting this adrenaline rush when they see a tiger. If they escape the tiger's dinner plans, they stamp off the anxiety, shake their manes, and return to chilling with their fellow zebras. Your body is also meant to return to a normal resting state too, and stay there most of the time (gasp).

The good news is that you can help turn off the inappropriate fight-or-flight response by breathing. When you inhale deeply while pushing your belly button way out, your lungs expand, taking in more oxygen your cells need to function properly. Your lungs also push your diaphragm down, sending the signal up your spinal cord that your nerves are OK. Take 3 of these big breaths like this and your body will go "oh yeah, I don't see a tiger running after me".

After the earthquake, when I felt the adrenaline coursing through my veins, I remembered the zebras - I shook it off, waved my mane, and logged online to check in with some buds (maybe it's our virtual wading pool). If you're still on edge about the quake, a trip to your local acupuncturist can help calm your nerves, as well as some nice easy big belly breathing.

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