Stress and anxiety drive our bodies to work over time. They trigger many parts of our body to go into survival mode causing us to feel wired, tired and overwhelmed all at the same time. Our sleep patterns get disrupted, our thinking mind is exhausted and our body feels like it’s run a marathon.
When we do this to ourselves daily…
It totally messes us up! Living in a constant state of stress and anxiety can lead to long-lasting health problems. It can affect our emotional well-being and our outlook on life.
For years as a business owner, I often took on the responsibility of my business far too seriously. I would work myself up over unrealistic expectations that didn’t meet me where I was. I forced, I hustled and I did everything I could to try and get ahead.
One day my body started to give up on me, my digestive fire was non-existent (stress can cause you to either overeat or not eat at all) my spleen and kidneys were working overtime but weren’t really doing their jobs effectively. I was tired all of the time, my skin was shit and I wasn’t pretty unhappy. This was my body screaming out for help and change.
At the time I was doing a yin yoga class a week the odd CrossFit class and got out when I could on the weekends. I meditated a little but not consistently – only when I had time for it.
I finally went to see a Chinese Medicine professional and we got to the root of the problem – my nervous system was fucked up thanks to my crazy workload and self-created stress.
Not what I wanted to hear. But it was my reality.
How does Stress Work
Inside our body’s lives, our parasympathetic nervous system. This very cool part of our body is what takes us from “stressed out” to “cool as a cucumber.” Its partner in crime is the sympathetic nervous system which controls our flight and fight responses.
The parasympathetic nervous system is always working it’s role is to keep us comfortable and in a relaxed state. (rest and digest). It helps us to maintain our daily functions like stabilising our heart rate, our metabolism burning, and getting oxygen into our body.
Because the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems live side by side, when stress does come into the equation the sympathetic nervous system responds by putting us in a state of fight or flight – usually, our hearts start racing, we have a sense of urgency about us. This outweighs our parasympathetic system which is trying to do its job to keep us calm but is getting squashed by our sympathetic autoresponse to stress and anxiety.
The only solution is to calm ourselves in this modern age where stress is almost our new normal. In other words, we need to nurture and strengthen our parasympathetic nervous system to thrive.
How to Calm the Nervous System
Goal No.1 : Create Feel Good Vibes
It sounds so simple but when we are laughing, having fun and smiling away this stimulates our parasympathetic nervous system. Our body is calm and relaxed because we are focused on what makes us feel good. Finding things that do this for us is really important – I love to dance, have a few wines with girlfriends and giggle all night or even paint. Other suggestions could be getting a massage, reading a book, playing music.
Goal No.2 : Movement
As a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist, this is the number one thing I recommend to people to get out of their heads. It’s to move your body, go for a walk, run, swim, bike ride, dance, yoga or exercise – but the key is to do it mindfully. When we move our bodies it puts us back into our body because we are focusing on taking steps, looking around us, focusing our breath – it shifts the focus away from our busy mind.
Goal No.3 : Breath
When we focus on our breath it lets our parasympathetic nervous system know that it can support us. There are several ways where you can take a few moments to focus on your breath – this might look like taking deep big belly breaths for a few minutes, box breathing where you count to four as you inhale, hold, exhale, hold, then repeat to the count of four. Yoga is a great form of using the breath through movement – try yin yoga or a gentle Hatha class. Meditation is another great way to connect to your breath and slow your breathing.
Goal No.4 : Nature & Environment
Our environments have a huge impact on us, we are no longer living amongst nature but have metal landscapes that surround us. Nature is a fantastic place to regulate your nervous system – the art of forest bathing (literally going for a walk in forests) has been proven to reduce stress, this Japanese practice is done to promote good health. So getting outdoors to sit in the sun, swim in an ocean and be with nature is a great way to calm the sympathetic nervous system.
We can also create a nurturing space in our own homes that help us to relax. Perhaps play some soft gentle music, keeping your home kind of tidy (no judgment here – I have two small kids – but in some sort of order is good), candles and lamps add warmth to a room, plants are also great to keep the oxygen fresh inside plus seeing green always helps our hearts. Our homes are the place we all like to come back to relax so create your sanctuary.
Goal No.5 : Get Social
As humans we love people, having a cup to tea with a friend to walking home after school pick up with other mums boosts our feel-good vibes. We love being social, hanging out, chatting laughing. When we feel connected with others it lowers our stress simply because we are in someone else’s company. Being social is about human connection and shared experiences not scrolling online consuming. It’s about being in the moment with others. Sign up to an art class, go to a community get-together and put yourself out there to talk with your fellow humans. Most of us are searching to feel connected. Being social delivers that reinforcing a positive state of being.
Calming the nervous system is about creating healthy practices that support us to live in a beautiful place of rest and digest. When we live in this place we make better choices, can see things clearly and can give to others when we feel called.
When we fill our cup first we can do anything.
It’s important to remember that we should be nurturing our body daily – not swinging way to the other (I know because that was what I kept doing) One yoga class didn’t cancel out how I treated myself for the other 166hours I had each week. Find your balance and keep fine-tuning what works for you.
Don’t think you have enough time to do this? Doing a few rounds of box breathing takes less than 2 minutes!
I would love to know what you do to calm your body in moments of stress and anxiety.