Second Breaks 170 Stress and Stress Relief 101 with Shulamit Ber Levtov

“It takes effort to hold that it all in. So, not only are you having a demanding experience on the inside, you’re placing the extra demand on yourself to hold it in and to keep a straight face. Without some way to discharge, physiologically and emotionally, what’s happening is quite literally like keeping the lid over a pot of boiling water. Eventually, it’s going to boil over.” — Shulamit Ber Levtov

IN THIS EPISODE:

  • What stress really is and how our body responds to stress
  • Chronic vs Acute stress
  • Three principles of stress relief
  • Why Shula prefers to talk about principles rather than specific techniques for stress relief
  • Examples of what these principles may look like in practice

ABOUT MY GUEST:

Shulamit (Shula) Ber Levtov is a mindset and resilience consultant. She typically works with women entrepreneurs – and using her background as a trauma therapist, she helps her clients stay sane and care for their emotional health as they ride the emotional rollercoaster of running a business.

But more relevant to our conversation about stress – Shula has been researching and studying stress and stress management, as part of her book project. And I’ve been reading her work on her website around these topics and found them to be really insightful.

In our conversation, Shula gave a very simple explanation of what stress really means — and how our bodies respond to stress. We dove into the principles of stress relief – and although we talked examples of how these principles may look in practice – Shula emphasized that there’s no one set of cookie-cutter techniques. And as she and I ran through the specific examples, I understood why it’s really important to come up with our own set of techniques.

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Learn more about Shula and her work: Shula’s website
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A FEW HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE CONVERSATION:

Even when you freeze or fawn, you still have the fight-flight physiology activated in your body. Which means that your heart beats faster, your respiration is shorter, shallower, more rapid. Your blood pressure goes up. You might find your palms sweaty. You might find your digestion setting that shutting down. You have muscle tension. All these are functional.

It’s not about never having stress, never being activated. It’s about a flow between the two states.

I would not advocate stretching our capacity to accommodate more stress because I believe that ultimately piling things on is like the metaphor of the straw that broke the camel’s back.

There are three principles of stress-relief that I teach: Soothing, Discharge, and Nourish

If you’ve ever noticed when you’re upset and you try to tell yourself not to be upset, what happens? It isn’t very helpful, right? What body-mind needs are experiences of “you can relax.” And so soothing activities let the body and the mind know that you are safe and okay. Language doesn’t work at that level. We need experiences.

We’re inclined to think that when we reach out for help, when we reach out for support, that it is a weakness. But if you stopped to think about it, what about a dike that has a hole in it? Is it stronger with support or is it stronger if you leave the hole? A tree that’s leaning over. Is it going to stand up straight and grow better if we leave it alone or is it going to be stronger and last longer if we give it some support?

There are two aspects to stress resilience, the way I teach it. There’s the in-the-moment stuff, when the s*t hits the fan, what can we draw on? But our capacity to draw on those things is based on our practice of them. So we need a day-to-day practice of the tools that we want to use.


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