Woman In Pain_284289272

Stress is natural; it is how the body handles those not-so-great conditions life throws our way. It’s also a protective mechanism designed to keep us safe, which means that occasional stress is okay. In fact, many people flourish with a low level of stress—a looming deadline may intensify focus, the knowledge that a supervisor is nearby may lead to increased diligence, and the uncertainty of getting into a good college can surely inspire improved study habits. But when stress persists over an extended period of time and exceeds a manageable level, it’s time to take a step back and check in with the body.

The Facts

We face stressors—situations that arouse a stress response in the body—every day. While intellectually we can distinguish between small stressors and large ones, the body often cannot. This means, even if the stressor is just a minor argument with your significant other, the body triggers a response capable of helping you run from a hungry lion! Clearly, this is not a fine-tuned reaction. Further, lots of little stressors, such as a long commute or a busy day at work, can result in living in a constant state of emergency. The body was not designed to live like this! So over time, this stress can lead to chronic conditions of the heart, lungs, digestive system, nervous system, immune system, and skeletomuscular system.

The Symptoms

Stress is typically characterized by feeling overwhelmed, worried, anxious, and run-down. Mentally, excessive or chronic stress impacts the ability to concentrate, make decisions, and think critically. Over time, excessive stress can affect your appetite (increase or decrease), sleep, mood, and health (stress compromises the immune system, making you more susceptible to illness). Other possible feelings associated with stress include physical pain, sadness, anger, fear, brain fog, and restlessness.

What Is Happening

Stress is the body’s internal response to external stimuli. When we come into contact with a stressor, the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system kicks into gear, triggering a series of chemical reactions in the body—blood pressure and heart rate elevate, the digestive system slows, and breath becomes shallow and fast. When the external stressor is no longer a threat, the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system takes over to return the body to a more balanced state of equilibrium (homeostasis).

The relationship between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems is an amazing series of checks and balances, but excessive stress can really throw off this delicate balance. When too many external stressors force the body to spend a disproportionate amount of time in the sympathetic nervous system (and therefore not reverting back to the parasympathetic nervous system/homeostasis), chronic issues can result, including high blood pressure , digestive and respiratory disorders, poor posture, and more.

Why Is This Happening

The body triggers stress in direct response to a stressor. Stressors come in many forms, including physical (injury, ailment, poor diet), situational (upcoming test or evaluation), financial (budgeting, unexpected spending need), social (meeting new people, relationship trouble), or environmental (cluttered house, excess noise). Everyone has a different relationship with the various stressors in their lives. Though many stressors may be out of your control, the way you respond is up to you. Also, the speed with which you recover from a stressful situation can be systematically increased with practice.

Lifestyle Adjustments
  1. Breathe. To mitigate the body’s stress response, take slow, deep breaths. Conscious breathing stimulates the vagus nerve to induce a relaxation response in the body (a.k.a. the parasympathetic nervous system). Try a relaxation breath: inhale for 2 counts, hold for 2 counts, exhale for 2 counts, hold for 2 counts.
  2. Eat well. Stressors come in all forms; even a poor diet can cause stress. To stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system (induce feelings of calm) and fulfill your dietary needs, stick to a healthy dose of vitamins and minerals from whole foods. Limit intake of coffee and alcohol, and avoid cigarettes to keep the sympathetic nervous system at bay.
  3. Journal. When you’re feeling stressed, make a note of the situation and how your body is reacting (sweating, shallow breathing, racing heart, etc.). At the end of a week or so, see if you can identify any stress patterns. Once you discover them, you can better predict, prevent, and cope with the stressors in your life.
Prevent It

1. Ground the Feet. Ground the Feet by creating equal pressure on the left and right feet. Then, push through the soles of the feet and pull the toe stems long. Feel the earth supporting you. The feet are the basis for support of the entire body. When we are not grounded, stress can easily escalate and turn into anxiety. Grounding the feet instills a sense of presence and the perspective to better address daily stressors.

2. Mobilize the Ribs. Place hands on either side of the ribcage with fingers facing each other and thumbs wrapping around the back body. Inhale; expand the ribs east and west toward the palms. Notice how the fingers move away from each other. Exhale; contract the ribs toward center. Notice how the fingers move toward each other. The breath is directly related to the nervous system. When you deepen and slow down your breath, you trigger a rest and digest response in the nervous system, which will minimize the body’s response to the stressor.

3. Release the Jaw. Contract the jaw (clench). Now, release this tension. When we experience stress, many of us inadvertently clench the jaw, which, over time, is harmful to muscles, bones, teeth, and gums. Releasing the jaw reduces the potentially harmful effects of excessive stress on the mouth. Additionally, releasing tension in high-tension areas like the jaw often triggers a release of tension in other parts of the body.

Fix It

Set aside time to practice structured rest. Whether you sit in a quiet place or attend a restorative yoga class, be as consistent as possible. Rest directly counteracts the body’s reaction to stressors by inducing the relaxation response. This relaxation response releases muscular tension and calms physical and mental “nerves” to decrease the body’s reactivity to stressors. With regular practice, the body’s reaction to stressors will decrease in frequency and severity.

Exercises

Relaxation Breathing

breathing


 

 

1. Start in a comfortable seated position with backs of hands resting on the knees.

2. Inhale for 2 count. Hold for two counts. Exhale for two counts. Hold for 2 counts.

3. Continue for 8 breath cycles.

Contract/Release Hands

fist and release

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Start in a comfortable seated position with backs of hands resting on the knees.

2. Contract the hands into fists. Now, release the hands

3. Inhale; Contract. Exhale; release.

4. Continue for 8 breath cycles.

Seated Cat and Cow

1. Start in a comfortable seated position with hands resting on the knees.

2. Straighten arms to flex spine to a rounded shape and set gaze to navel. This is cat.

3. Bend elbows to extend spine long, stretch chest and forehead up, and set gaze toward the ceiling. This is cow.

4. Inhale; prepare. Exhale; flex spine to cat. Inhale; extend spine to cow.

5. Repeat for 8 breath cycles. 

Bridging

betterbridge

1. Start supine with knees bent, feet grounded and arms extended at the sides with palms facing down.

2. Tuck pelvis and roll up – bone by bone – to the spine of the scapula. Roll down – bone by bone – back to start position.

3. Inhale; roll up and ground the feet by pressing the base of the toes and the heels into the floor. Exhale; roll down and empty by drawing the belly in toward the back and up toward the ribs.

4. Continue for 8 breath cycles.

Side Lying Rest

Side Lying Rest1. Place a folded blanket or a small pillow at the top edge of the mat.

2. Come to a seated, cross-legged position in the center of the mat. Make your way to the fetal position (on either side), with your head comfortably rested on the blanket or pillow.

3. Place a large bolster or pillow between your legs to support the knees and ankles. Hug a small bolster or pillow toward the chest.

4. Rest your eyes and focus on your breath for at least five minutes. If your mind wanders, which is completely normal, bring your attention back to your breath by labeling your inhale and exhale.

Note:  Pregnant women are recommended to rest on their left side.

Supported Relaxation

 

1. Start in a comfortable cross-legged seated position. Place a bolster or pillow in front of you and a folded blanket behind you.

2. Extend legs and drape them over the bolster or pillow to support the knees.

3. Keeping knees supported, lower yourself onto your back (supine) and rest head on the folded blanket. Extend arms by sides at a 45-degree angle (armpits free), with palms facing up.

4. Inhale for two counts and exhale for two counts. Continue this process of counting the length of the inhalation and exhalation for three minutes, twice a day. Gradually add time.

5. To come out, gently roll to the right into a fetal position and hold for three breaths. Activate top hand into the floor and push yourself up – heart before head – to seated position.

This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Yoffie Life disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.