We all have stress. Acute stress is sometimes necessary to motivate us to keep ourselves safe or to get things done, but when we have chronic stress it effects our body and mind negatively. When facing a toothy alligator, oncoming car or just an impending deadline, our bodies trigger a physical stress response that prepares us to either fight or flee. This “fight or flight” response is driven by the sympathetic nervous system. When the sympathetic nervous system is activated our heart rate increases, blood pressure increases, blood vessels constrict and muscles tense up.
Thinking about COVID-19, being concerned about contracting it, and the general change in our lifestyles this has warranted, may be causing chronic stress in individuals. Sometimes thinking about a stressful situation can have the same effect on your body and mind as actually being in one.
To counter the effects of stress, which activates the sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight response”), one can activate the parasympathetic nervous system (“rest, heal and digest” response) to get the nervous system back into balance. When the parasympathetic system is activated, heart rate and blood pressure decrease, and muscles become more relaxed.
There are many ways that may help you to reduce or manage stress. Here are a few that you can do on a daily basis:
1. Eliminate stressors - Make a list of your stressors and see if there is a way to reduce some of them on a daily basis.
2. Do pleasurable activities – List activities you enjoy and do them daily, if possible throughout the day.
3. Cultivate social support - During this time of social distancing, this one can be trying - but it is important to stay connected. Call a friend. Make a plan to safely meet outside or schedule a video call.
4. Do physical activity you enjoy daily - Do yoga, dance, walk or bike. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals such as dopamine and endorphins in your brain that make you feel happy. Not only is your brain making feel-good chemicals, but exercise also helps your brain rid itself of chemicals that make you feel stressed and anxious.
5. Relax your muscles - Progressive muscle relaxation helps break this cycle by reducing muscle tension and general mental anxiety. Savasana, Restorative Yoga, Yoga Nidra and 61-Point Meditation are great ways to help your muscles relax.
6. Sleep well - Make a habit of getting 7-9 hours of sleep daily. It is recommended to not use any electronics for 1 hour before bedtime. If not possible, try to refrain from using them for 15-30 minutes and see what happens. The blue light from electronics reduces the melatonin production in your brain.
7. Meditate - Meditation helps initiate the "relaxation response" which helps lower blood pressure and improves heart rate, breathing and brain waves.
8. Eat nutritious foods - Eating more fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods helps both body and brain work more effectively and feel more energized.
9. Take time in nature - Being in nature helps your body to get back into its natural rhythm. Being in nature reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. Spending time in nature makes you feel better emotionally; it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones.
10. Practice Pranayama - Breathing exercises help balance your nervous system. Abdominal breathing is a deliberate breath that expands the abdominal area only. The chest remains still and quiet. This can be done seated or lying down. The benefit of this breath is that it stimulates the Vagus nerve, activating the relaxation response through the movement of the diaphragm. Alternate Nostril Breathing is another technique that helps balance the nervous system by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. It calms the mind and leaves you mentally alert.
Try a few of the above strategies and begin to reduce your stress and build your resilience. We all have the power to improve our well-being. Each day is different. Some days are easier than others.
If you need help with these techniques, let me know. As an integrative health and wellness practitioner, I am here to help you make a plan that works best for you to improve your overall well-being.
In my yoga classes and private sessions, my intention is to empower you to live a life filled with radiance and vitality, as well as help manage your stress and build resilience!
Fabienne Grossman, RD, LD, E-RYT500
Integrative Health and Wellness Practitioner providing individual and group instruction empowering individuals to learn and use the powerful healing tools of yoga, Ayurveda, nutrition, and meditation into everyday life to optimize health, vitality and well-being.