DownloadGet our free ebook: <br/>30 Days of Guided Meditation

4 Surprising Lessons About Stress From a Shark Attack

Did you see it?

We did and about 21 million of our besties. If you haven’t see it, watch the video below to bring yourself up to speed.

That’s live footage from the J-Bay Open in South Africa where a shark attacked surfer, Mick Fanning. We weren’t even close (think: half a world away) when this happened, but watching the video triggers physical sensations and reactions from stress (think: this happens to you daily on a smaller scale from stimulus). The huge dorsal fin of what is estimated to be a 3.5-meter great white shark rises up out of the ocean taking Fanning (and all of us) by surprise–it’s downright heart-pounding!

But what does this have to do with you? Stress expert, Shannon Harvey, took a closer look at events during and following the attack, dissecting the psychosomatic and hormonal responses of the human body. When under stress the body releases powerful chemicals into your bloodstream the effect your behavior.

When the stress is initially introduced, our bodies go into “fight or flight mode.” According to Harvey, this natural bodily response to stress is “an evolutionary super power designed to save your life [where] powerful hormones like adrenaline surge into your bloodstream, amplifying your heart rate, muscle strength and metabolism. Cortisol floods you with glucose to give you an energy burst. As you start to breathe faster, the oxygen boost to your brain puts you on high alert and sharpens your senses. Your immune system revs up too, mustering troops in parts of your body at high risk of being wounded.” Basically, we revert back to our cave dwelling selves and are operating purely on survival instinct. We clearly saw this happening as Fanning was fighting for his life to get away from danger.

But our bodies also go through a series of other lesser known responses, which help our bodies to reduce stress naturally. These other events are referred to as “tend and befriend” and “rest and digest.”  Scientists have observed that during stressful situations, people can be drawn to tending (as a parent would for their vulnerable offspring during an attack) and befriending (handy for collaborating during times of peril) due to a release of the hormone, oxytocin. During the rest and digest phase, your hormones levels drop and your parasympathetic nervous system takes over and your body begins breaking down the stress physically.

From her thoughtful analysis, we learned four lessons about how your body reduces stress naturally and turn those lessons into actionable items that you can do to physically lower your stress levels.

1. Call A Family Member or Close Friend

After the attack, the surf community banded together, referring to each other as family requiring no rationalization of the many rescuers that took to assisting Fanning without hesitation. Those involved were experiencing the “tend” response from the release of oxytocin into their systems. Harvey explains that “oxytocin is a hormone known for its role in intimacy and social bonding. It fine-tunes your brain to notice what others are thinking and feeling and primes you to build and strengthen relationships.” It is also the first natural bodily response to bring you back down from your adrenaline and cortisol high triggered by stress.

Use that to your advantage. When you feel stressed out, reach out to a close friend or family member and foster that relationship. Creating an moment of bonding supports the release of oxytocin and can lower your stress levels. Better yet, work on setting aside more time for strengthening and building relationships to have a steady supply of oxytocin flowing.

2. Give (and Get) More Hugs

In videos and interviews following Fanning’s struggle, there are lots and lots of hugs going around. That’s no surprise from all that extra “cuddle hormone” (aka oxytocin again) floating around. Hugging plays a big role in reducing stress; it is actually known to reduce the levels of the stress hormone cortisol AND reduce your susceptibility to illness. So what are you waiting for? Do yourself (and someone else) a favor–give ’em a hug!

3. Cry About It

You’ll also notice that after all the hugging is over, the surfers turn on the water works, despite their best efforts to hold back the tears. Harvey explains that the after a stressful event, the physical act of crying is actually a “highly effective evolutionary trait designed to reduce the feeling of trauma and transform stress into something tangible”  that helps the body return to chemical balance.  It is our body’s way of “digesting” all those extra hormones. It’s not a sign of weakness, but rather crying is good for you. So stop the worrying and just let it all out. You’ll feel better (and less stressed).

4. Take a Nap

Ever felt like you just want to crawl under a rock, sleep, and wake up having everything in its place? Yeah, we’ve been there too. Turns out, it’s a natural bodily response to reduce stress. Stress takes a big toll on the body. In fact, constant stress is related to the occurrence of chronic illness because the bodily is undergoing a lot of physical shifts and changes. It needs recovery time, which is why you feel tired when you are stressed out. Listen to your body, take a quick nap to give your body a moment to rest and reset. You’ll awake feeling more energized and have less stress so you can tackle your to-dos head on!

So even if you’re not planning on taking on a great white shark any time soon, remember that we all have plenty of great white sharks swimming around in our heads confronting us daily. This daily, long-term exposure to stress is a real danger that affects our health. Use the stress relieving cues from a real shark attack to keep your stress at bay.

Image Credit