How could seven days of fasting undo months of built-up stress? I’m going to try to answer that question, although it’s important to keep in mind that there are some things we still do not understand about the relationship between the mind and the body.
Lowered Blood Pressure
Stress triggers a “fight or flight” response, stimulating adrenal glands and elevating blood pressure. I normally have slightly low blood pressure but during a particularly stressful period recently, my blood pressure went up so high it burst a blood vessel in my eye. Fasting reverses this effect, normalizing the adrenal glands and reducing sodium levels which also help lower blood pressure. I could feel the pressure reduced in my neck and head within three days of fasting.
I have heard people say being sick in bed with the flu was the best thing that ever happened to them because it forced them to stop their crazy busy routine and take stock of their lives. When we are in the middle of a crisis, busyness can become a form of escaping from our inner world of turmoil, trying to keep one move ahead of a losing game. The fasting state tempers that agitated feeling of racing from one thing to the next, forcing us to slow down.
Physically slowing down could be counterproductive if not for the fact that fasting also calms the raging mind. This allows for a clearer evaluation of compulsive fear-based thoughts that can march through the brain like an out-of-control parade. Phobic thoughts become more manageable as we slow down and work through what we are feeling. Anxiety always exaggerates our situation, pushing out all the good things we can be thankful for. In the flurry of fear, we forget the bigger picture, that this too shall pass, and there will be better days ahead. The quieted mind is not something you have to consciously do—fasting does it for you.
A fridge full of food, a warm home, a soft bed, good Church, clean clothes—we have so much to be thankful for. Even on my worst day, two-thirds of the world would feel like they have died and gone to heaven if they dropped into my world. For some reason, fasting always reminds me of these things, which leads to a deep feeling of thankfulness. I guess a part of it is seeing everyone around me eating delicious foods, oblivious of how blessed they are. Then I start asking myself the important questions, like: What do I need to be happy? This always brings me to my faith in God, my friends and family. I go for a walk in the forest and I thank God for strong legs, the trees and singing birds. Whatever I am obsessing over finds its proper context in the larger picture of a blessed life.
Feeling Back In Control
The feeling that we are victims of uncontrollable events, that we have no control over our own thinking and emotional well-being can be extremely demoralizing. Because fasting dramatically accelerates beneficial changes, we are able to witness the stark contrasts between healthy and unhealthy. This can really help reinforce a feeling of taking back control, which is paramount to overcoming anxiety attacks.
Remember, I said that many people self-medicate during times of stress by overeating or drinking. In my case, I turned to drinking an increasing amount of coffee to try to combat overwhelming fatigue. Studies show that coffee can contribute to increased anxiety and panic attacks. During the fast, I weaned myself completely off coffee. The withdrawals were painful but the feeling of conquering this addiction was well worth it. It contributed to helping me feel like I was regaining control over my life.
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