Stress is insidious and as the survival tool for fight, flight or freeze, it has an impact on every one of the 50 trillion cells in our bodies. This reaction is essential to avoid immediate, physical danger, such as hitting the brakes to avoid an accident. However, stress is mostly triggered by our inner default mode of how we feel and think – ruminating, worrying, and being fearful or angry.

The body experiences stressful feelings as though they are physical dangers and the whole cascade of the stress reaction is triggered throughout our mind and body. Prolonged periods of this incessant and unnecessary reaction leads to distress that can cause many chronic diseases and ailments, from mental to physical. It also robs us of joy and a sense of wellbeing.

Let’s now return to our cells – the functional core of our bodies. Every one of these tiny cells is an intelligent life form that governs what goes on in our bodies. What we tend to forget, however, is that they are extremely obedient. Our cells listen to every word we say, every thought we think, and every emotion we feel – and follow our instructions to a tee.

And that is why it is very important to manage fear by monitoring, through constant awareness, how we feel inside. It is essential that we learn how to keep the heart, brain and mind healthy to support immune system and heart health, while curbing inflammation.

The wonderful, hopeful fact is that we can change our stress reaction through various practical ways, including a deliberate daily relaxation practice, to develop calm centeredness and peace of mind, at will. It takes some practice, perseverance, and patience (I call them the three Ps), but we can all learn to master our stress reaction through mental-emotional training.

We all intuitively know how bad stress is for us. At the root of stress is fear, which has been around since just after we crawled out of the primordial soup! While we know it’s destructive, it is also insidious and very difficult to overcome, because it has become an ingrained brain pattern with a survival bias – deep inside the reptilian, instinctual part of our brains. Fear has been established over many years and many generations. We get this default setting from our genetics handed down from our ancestors.

It is time now for us to break this negative programming and take back control of the instructions we give our cells. And the good news is: every single one of us can learn how to do this and improve our inner fitness. Practical stress management and relaxation training for mindful mental wellbeing, using principles of neuroplasticity to rewire and reconnect to deeper values, are solutions we can apply on a daily basis.

Always remember that we are free, sovereign souls embodied in a physical body whose natural state is to be happy, whole (the meaning of the root word of ‘health’), joyful and free! Fear is an impostor and here is a way to deal with it to restore calmness and inner peace:

Become aware of, and feel this fear, sit with it, find where it is located in your body, and notice how it changes, like all emotions do if we pay attention to them. Don’t resist the feeling. Be with it, accepting and allowing, letting it wash through and out of you, and drop through the layers to reach, even for a moment, an awareness of a deep place inside yourself. A place of stillness, of quiet and peace, of unconditional love.

Then ask, from within this space, what the right choices are for you. When you believe this safe space to be true, and you are firm and sure, you will always have a bubble of protection that won’t allow people in who try to scare you into making choices based on fear, and that are not in your own best interest. Choose from within the ways to enhance and restore your natural state: health and wholeness, living in joy and inner peace, doing what you love as a calling, rather than slogging away at a job – it’s all in the attitude, intention and mindset of how you go about your daily life.

How do we find the necessary calm, creativity and focus to not only cope and adapt, but to thrive?

The following exercise is another starting place:

Breathe deeply to connect with this moment. Allow the breath to enter every cell, straighten your spine and be grateful for this life; feel the breath of life (light, love, chi, prana, life force) in your whole being, invigorating every single cell, and every one of the 50 trillion molecular geniuses that make up your physical form. Exhale all the fear and worries into a neutralising bubble. Focus in your mind, on what delights you, what makes you truly happy and joyful. Breathe in your surroundings, taste the air and the freshness of the day, notice the blessings and wonders of nature around you. A few moments of mindful breathing and sense awareness can make all the difference to your day.

Practise these two exercises every morning and evening, even if it’s only for five minutes. They will go a long way to alleviate that ominous feeling that we get so often in our everyday lives (and especially now!) and to send the correct happy messages to our obedient and hard-working little cells.

Dr Arien van der Merwe is a medical doctor, author, holistic health counsellor, stress management consultant, and specialist corporate health & wellness service provider. She teaches group and individual meditation and relaxation classes online and at The Green Healing Space, 16 Hope St (c/o Dirkie Uys St), Hermanus. Visit or contact 067 116 6111 /

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