School, Stress, and September

or, five simple tricks to calm you (and your family)

So you got cut off in traffic (It's Boston. It happens.). But half an hour later, as you pull into your destination, you heart is still pounding and you're fuming.

The body keeps the score. Our physiological stress response greatly impacts our health: constant tension affects our focus, social intelligence, strength, happiness, resilience...the list goes on.

The impact of stress on the body is well articulated in Robert Sapolsky's book Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers (check out his TED talk on what makes humans unique). The zebra, having been chased by the lion, resumes it's carefree grazing once the danger has passed. Humans brood, imagining what could have happened or what might occur next time.

Ok, ok...but we DO live in a world where cell phones are dinging, traffic is miserable, and the kids' school project was due...yesterday. What to do? 

1. Smile. Especially the ear-to-ear, eye crinkling kind. It will calm the cardiovascular system (it's science) and release feel-good hormones into the blood stream.
2. Practice gratitude. Simple gratitude rituals have been proven to improve happiness, enthusiasm, and compassion. If keeping a gratitude journal isn't your jam, try sharing three things you're grateful for as the family sits down to dinner.
3. Breathe. (check out the six-second exhale in the article below)
4. Dance. Any form of exercise will release endorphins and help burn off the extra adrenaline that stress dumps into the blood stream. But a good old fashioned dance party? That's a bonus. 
5. Strike a [power] pose. Research has shown that standing in a "power pose" (such as Wonder Woman's hands on hips or holding the overhead V for Victory) increases confidence, composure, and stress tolerance. This is a great trick to apply when you have a foreseeably stressful event, such as a presentation at work or first day of school jitters for the kids.

Happy September! May you find your inner zebra.