Wrote this article for Obino’s blog.
You can eat healthily and exercise all you want but if you don’t know how to self-regulate and release stress, the benefits of exercise and good food won’t last long. If your mind habitually worries and perceives most situations as stressful, then your body will be in a chronic state of threat. It will not repair or heal itself because it will garner all its resources for survival. The body cannot differentiate between perceived threat and real threat.
What happens when the body perceives a threat?
When there is a real or imagined threat, the body starts the survival response. The autonomic nervous system has two branches. The sympathetic nervous system which prepares the organism for fight or flight response. It increases the blood pressure and the heart rate while slowing down the digestion process. The parasympathetic nervous system on the other hand, slows down the body’s functions and conserves energy. It brings down the heart rate, the blood pressure, etc and enhances digestion. During stress, the ANS stimulates the adrenal glands which release cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol works in replenishing energy supplies to the body. Adrenaline levels increase when there is stress. The cortisol level is also high during stress. These are adaptive resources that maintain stability during change and emergency.
However, the real problem occurs when the systems involved in maintaining stability don’t stop. They remain active even when not needed. This is what happens in chronic stress. The over-activity of ANS leads to physiological problems such as hyperglycemia (high level of cortisol leads to increased sugar in the blood), high blood pressure, cholesterol increase, gastritis and other physical problems.
When you worry a lot and imagine worst case scenarios, your body goes into the survival response again and again and isn’t able to come out of it. The continued secretion of cortisol and adrenaline keeps your body in a state of hyper-vigilance, always scanning for danger. And unless we break out of this loop, our body will not benefit from the exercise and healthy food habits. In a state of stress, the food doesn’t get digested well, the body is exhausted, and the repair process gets affected. Hence to get the most benefit from exercise and healthy food habits, learning to relax and getting out of the stress loop is essential.
So the key to better health and vitality is to induce relaxation response after a period of stress. The parasympathetic nervous system has to be active for the body’s self-repair mechanism to work. The relaxation response helps the body heal and repair itself.
1) PAUSE – Let’s say you have to go out and you’re worrying about all the things that can go wrong. Pause. Take a break.
2) BREATHE – in that pause breathe. A few seconds of delay won’t cause any irreparable damage. So just pause and take a few deep breaths and say to yourself, “It’s alright. It’s going to be okay. It’s okay to pause and breathe.”
3) LOOK AROUND – notice three things in your room, environment. Focus on them and mentally tell yourself what they are. For example, if you notice a painting, tell yourself, “ This is a painting and I’m here in this room with it”
4) PRESS ACUPRESSURE POINTS on your face and body (EFT). You can also learn this relaxation process by downloading the free e-book at www.emofreetherapy.com
5) You can also VISUALIZE a real or imagined place of relaxation. Lissa Rankin says, that “allow your mind to experience the relaxing place in a multisensory way, see it, feel it, smell it, taste it, and hear the sounds.”
6) GROUNDING – Rest your feet on the ground and imagine a cord that is made of light running through your legs to the ground and going underground through the concrete to the centre of the earth. Alternatively, you can also imagine having roots grow from your feet and being firmly rooted in the earth.
7) ENGAGE IN A CREATIVE PROCESS – A non-goal oriented process is much more relaxing than working towards a goal.
8) CHANGE YOUR SELF-TALK – Constant self-criticism and blame create internal stress. Gentle encouragement and self-compassion help the mind and body heal.
Follow the above ways of relaxing yourself to not let stress affect your health and fitness. Remember, constant negative thoughts can create a lot of stress and anxiety. Distract yourself when your mind starts chattering unnecessarily. Also, doing what we love is the best way to relax the body which can be something as simple as engaging in a hobby like music or painting. Develop a better stress management strategy for this new year!