While the stress might not go away, we are able to influence our bodies to switch over from the stressed out sympathetic state to the relaxed parasympathetic nervous system state. These intricate communication networks help maintain and regulate your body function. When you’re under stress (like imagine you’re that lifeguard hustling to save a person), your flight-or-flight (sympathetic) response ups your heart rate, adrenaline and changes your digestion (like literally stops your digestion), urination, tear and salivate production, defecation, and more.
Quoting from Healthline’s detailed article on how the two systems function, your relaxed parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) function “is kind of a ‘business as usual’ system that keeps the basic functions of your body working as they should.”
Your heightened sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is the opposite, ready to fight or fly. When you’re in this heightened state, your body is directing energy away from everyday functions in order to be ready to act quickly. The longer you stay in the sympathetic mode, the longer your body is focusing energy into “fighting” while minimizing support for your whole-body wellness.
Chronic stress, experiencing stressors over a prolonged period of time, can result in a long-term drain on the body. As the autonomic nervous system continues to trigger physical reactions, it causes a wear-and-tear on the body. It’s not so much what chronic stress does to the nervous system, but what continuous activation of the nervous system does to other bodily systems that become problematic.
– Stress effects on the body by the American Psychological Association
Activate Your Parasympathetic System and Relax
In the name of not wearing ourselves out, we need to practice and teach our bodies and minds to switch out of the rushed stress state of being. If you’ve made a habit of rushing and dashing your body and brain, it will take time and practice to undo it, and that’s ok (a lot of us have that unhelpful habit). To keep it simple, here are three useful tips to start using right away. We’ll return to this topic in an upcoming online class (please read about it and register below).
1. Use HeartMath
In a recent blog, I introduced how I’d become certified as a HeartMath practitioner. Using your smart phone, a simple app, and the HeartMath sensor you’re able to “measure your heart rate variability in real-time during live sessions.” It’s fascinating — and practical — information. Your heart is giving off hormones and signals that work like little messengers to your body and brain, affecting your perceptions of stress, and for some, tricking your body and brain into thinking that chronic stress is normal. Using the various stress-reduction app exercises and feedback, you’re able to improve your heart rate variability (HRV) to build resilience through stressful times.
2. Relieve with routine
Your brain loves routine. Repeat it with me: Your brain loves routine! Even more so in chaotic times, routine grounds your mind. You’ll have something familiar, expected in your day. I’d recommend reading through this helpful article. It’s informative and relatable to these last 18 months with quotes like, “Many people are either working from home or faced with the prospect of an unknown period of unemployment. Those working at home may quickly discover that the constant isolation and lack of a normal schedule can be mentally taxing. A lack of structure and routine can actually exacerbate feelings of distress and make you pay more attention to the source of your problems. … One way to get out of this cycle that promotes ruminating over the source of your stress is to maintain some structure and routine throughout your day.” Pick one of the suggestions in the article. Start to incorporate it as a predictable habit as part of your day.
3. Breathe to find ease
A little focus on breathing with various exercise can literally improve your health. Just look at this one fact about improving health for those with asthma … “After following a breathing exercise intervention for ten minutes daily for one month, approximately two-thirds of individuals with asthma reported reduced inhaler use.” That’s a real-life benefit after investing only 10 minutes a day. Breathing exercises help your body calm the nervous system, switching over to the parasympathetic nervous system function, improving your ability to sleep, reducing stress, and more. Scroll through this article to review tips, and follow along with a breathing exercise video. Hey, maybe one of these breathing exercises could be a part of your new daily love-your-brain routine?!
To learn more about the two systems and how you can help your body return to its calm state, join us for an upcoming class. This is a free 3 hour workshop put on by 4 women, 2 in the professional business world and 2 health practitioners, all about building resilience in your business as well as individual resilience. This class takes place Wednesday September 15th 9-12. Register here.