It’s been a busy day. You come home exhausted and frazzled. Stress is high and you need a release mechanism to bring you back down to Earth. But zoning out in front of the TV or playing soccer with the team won’t reduce stress. To calm the nerves, we must consciously activate the body’s relaxation response (aka, the parasympathetic nervous system).
Life is stressful; there’s no doubt about it! When we feel overwhelmed, our body produces a huge amount of chemical messengers (i.e. hormones) that prepare us to run away from danger or attach a predator. But, the body cannot tell the difference between a tiger about to pounce and an important deadline at the office. And unfortunately, we can’t run away from deadlines, as much as we would like to...
When stressed, the sympathetic nervous system is activated. We experience:
- Increased heart rate
- Quick, shallow breathing
- Tense muscles
- Rise in blood sugar and blood pressure
Some systems in the body slow down and their capacity to function significantly drops. These systems include 1) digestion, 2) reproduction, 3) detoxification, 4) immune function, and 5) healing and repair. As a result, we can experience the following symptoms:
- Infertility or changes in menstrual cycles
- Mood disturbances and irritability
- Sleep disturbance
- Weakened immune system
- Poor wound healing
- Nutrient deficiencies
The good news is, we can take control of our nervous system and put the breaks on stress. When we activate the relaxation response, we experience:
- Decreased heart rate
- Slower and deeper breathing
- Reduced and stabilized blood sugar and blood pressure
- Relaxed muscles
- Healing and detoxification
So, how do we activate the relaxation response? There are a number of R&R strategies to try. The key is finding one that works for you and that you enjoy. Below are some techniques to explore.
It is important to practice conscious stress management daily. If that seems overwhelming, remember, when we actively switch our stress response over to a relaxation response, we can quickly reap the benefits. Some of these techniques require only seconds to perform, although most stress experts recommend 10 to 20 minutes a day. If you want (or need) more than a few seconds, I encourage you to set time aside to enjoy deeper relaxation. Find what feels good for you.
- Deep belly breathing. 20 seconds, three times a day.
- Total body tense and release. 20 seconds, three times a day.
- Self massage with a tennis or golf ball. 60 seconds, two times a day.
- Progressive muscle relaxation sequence. Lying down, 10-20 minutes.
- Mindfulness practices. Sitting or lying down, 10-20 minutes.
- Focus on the present moment and the sound of your deep breathing.
- Focus on your emotion (joy, anger, frustration) or a craving. Then, let it go. Watch it dissolve like sandstone in the wind.
- Visualization meditation. Sitting or lying down, 10-20 minutes.
- Imagine yourself in a peaceful place. Focus on the colors, textures, smells, lighting, etc as if you were really there.
- Message therapy or acupuncture
- Tai Chi or Yoga (Satyananda, Hatha, or Power)
HelpGuide.org offers a How-To guide for each the techniques above. I highly recommend it and other articles they offer:
- Stress Management: How to reduce, prevent, and cope with stress
- Stress at Work: Tips to reduce and manage job and workplace stress
- Stress Management Self Help Check List
Summer is a perfect time to practice relaxation. If you're looking for help finding a stress management plan, schedule a free consultation with me to discuss ways we can work together. I can help you bring your body and mind back into balance so you can feel at ease and energized.