You could have the most wholesome diet and the best workout routine, but if stress strikes and you don’t know how to overcome it, your immune system will plummet and your health will fail.
In fact, if you’re experiencing inexplicable pain, digestion problems, fluctuating bodily functions, fatigue, and other physical issues, stress could very well be the culprit.
The Body’s Response to Stress
In order to manage stress, you have to realize what it is and understand what your body can do to manage its effects.
Stress is the body’s way of reacting to a demand. It doesn’t matter if the demand is broached by a positive or negative experience; the body only recognizes it as stress and accordingly releases chemicals into the blood.
Stress is inevitable, so what can you do to avoid falling victim to its consequences? It’s important to understand the nervous system so you can calm it down when it starts responding to stress triggers.
What goes on with your autonomic nervous system when it registers stress? To better comprehend it, you should know that it consists of two contrasting systems: the sympathetic and parasympathetic.
· Sympathetic Nervous System
This is referred to as the emergency system. It activates the fight-or-flight response and prepares the body for vigorous physical activity. When it senses danger, it accomplishes several responses intended to save your life, such as speeding up the heart and shutting down the digestive system, as well as spiking both blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
The problem is that the body cannot tell the difference between actual stress and an imagined version of it. It can be stimulated by common activities. If your fight-or-flight response kicks in much too frequently and your body is regularly flooded with the stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin, your health will definitely suffer.
· Parasympathetic Nervous System
The parasympathetic system is the very opposite. It is referred to as the rest-and-digest system. Instead of spurring intense activity, it relaxes the body and slows down or inhibits a variety of high energy functions. Instead of shutting down digestion, the parasympathetic system activates it. This also slows down the heart and decreases blood pressure.
Activating this system relaxes the body. Your muscles are allowed to repair, rejuvenate, and recharge. Food is properly digested and sleep comes easily. This is also the prime time to reproduce.
The Key to Managing Stress
Knowing the nature of your nervous system, you now have an idea how to control your body to manage stress. You obviously need to quiet down your fight-or-flight instinct and encourage your rest-and-digest system. How do you accomplish this?
1. Breathe slowly.
Slowed breathing signals to your body that you are safe. This is why meditation is a really helpful addition to your daily routine.
2. Relax your muscles.
Calm down by tensing and relaxing muscles. Start with your toes and progress upwards. This is another mindfulness exercise that helps your body conquer stress.
3. Get a massage.
A good massage releases the tension and smooths out the knots in your muscles. You’ll feel your stress ebbing as your body and spirit are rejuvenated, making you feel more equal to the demands of your situation.
4. Pamper yourself.
Indulge in a favorite treat. It doesn’t have to be edible, or you might fall in the habit of comfort eating. It can be a bubble bath with essential oils and scented candles. It can be an hour or two dedicated to a relaxing craft you enjoy. It can be an evening of smooth live music.
5. Get a hug.
Approach family or friends and let them know that you could really use a hug. People are soothed by physical touch, so you’ll be sure to feel comforted by someone’s embrace. If you can’t find anybody to hug you in the moment, hug yourself and self-soothe.
Love Yourself Away From Stress
If you’re harsh on yourself, you’re more prone to experience regular stress, so learn to treat yourself with kindness. When you’re more flexible and more forgiving of yourself, you can better deal with stress and prevent its physical and mental effects from materializing.
Justine Corry is a clinical psychologist and enjoys helping people get to the heart of what is not working in their lives. Along with Dr. Gemma Gladstone, she is co-director of the Good Mood Clinic in Sydney and has 10 years of experience within private practice.