When you are under stress, you enter into what we call a “fight or flight” response. There are two sides to the autonomic nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system. Certain bodily functions are turned on when you are in either of these states. The sympathetic nervous system promotes the stress response.
Signs you are in sympathetic overdrive may include:
Feeling on edge or startle easily
Muscle tension in shoulders, neck and back
Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
These stress pathways are meant to get you through a short term stress. But if engaged long term is has disastrous effects on the body. The brain is especially susceptible and people often experience mental fog or memory problems. Chronic stress can lead to hormone imbalances.
The parasympathetic system tends to promote relaxation and restoration processes such as food digestion, detoxification and preparing for sleep. Think of “para” like a parachute it tends to slow things down. The parasympathetic processes are down-regulated under chronic stress. We need these parasympathetic processes for optimal health: to digest the nutrients in our food, to enter into restorative sleep to rebuild tissue and to remove waste products. We really need to cautiously take some time each day to calm the nervous system and promote the parasympathetic processes. It doesn't have to be much, a little can really go a long way with promoting optimal health. The hardest part is taking the time.
So what are some things you can do to calm your nervous system?
Review you diet for nutritional gaps - increase B vitamins, drink lots of water. Take a fish oil supplement are some essentials.
Practice mindfulness while doing everyday tasks such as cleaning, laundry, walking.
Connect - Spend time with friends
Breathe as directly increases relaxation state in the body
Treat yourself to a spa treatment, massage or a facial
There are many natural medicines that can help with stress. An amino acid called L-theanine helps calm the brain. For some people, 5-HTP helps to naturally improve serotonin levels, a natural feel good neurotransmitter. That said is should not be taken with antidepressants or medications.
Massage and other forms of body work can also help counter stress. I use a technique called transdermalporation to relax tight muscles in the neck and back. This technique combines electrical stimulation, herbal medicine and massage to relax spasming muscles. It also reduces stress by naturally stimulating endorphins and feel good hormones. So next time you are at the spa or taking a hike, remind yourself that relaxing activities and therapies are an essential part of our modern living.