It is pretty apparent that modern culture and society has developed in such a way that stress and anxiety are present in a high percentage of people’s lives. Our original existence relied on these natural reactions to difficult situations in order to survive and for instincts to kick in. However, we are clearly not needing to decide quickly whether to run away from the animal we will either hunt or be hunted by, nor do we need to make that kill in order to feed the family.
Our decision making has changed, everything has changed. And our current issues are generally not ones we can elect “fight or flight” to combat. So we are stuck with a stressful lifestyle that we can’t escape as the schedules persist and stimulation overwhelms us, we work hard, perhaps too hard and the pressure mounts, and mounts. This continuous cycle will eventually cause a negative impact on our health and so we need to consistently negate the detrimental reactions or prevent them from taking effect in the first place. How on earth do we work that out when we haven’t even got time to think?!
Lucky for us there is something simple, free, quick, and science-backed, that we can all do to help alleviate the aforementioned tension levels and make sure that stress doesn’t manifest within us as a health threat.
Relax. This might sound obvious and even something that someone might say to annoy you as, clearly if it warrants suggesting, then clearly you are not relaxed! However, it is proven that we need to do it in order to relieve stress and so how about we look into it in a rational, scientific manner rather than an irritating suggestion!
What does it really mean to relax, how do we do so effectively, and how can it positively impact our overall wellbeing?
The technical side of becoming stressed relates to our sympathetic nervous system. When we are under a perceived physical threat the body reacts by being instructed by the brain to boost circulation, increase our heart rate, hit the pause button on digestion, increase glucose production, and slow down our immune response and rational thinking…this radical shift in our system gives way to a temporary boost in stamina, strength and focus.
In modern times the reaction to stress is based on the psychological and so rather than physically react we mentally react and our bodies put a halt on self-healing, connectivity and creativity. We get the same adrenaline surge yet a new and different reaction. Either way, whatever the actual stress or tension is caused by, be it physical or psychological (think deadlines, traffic jams, bills to pay, schedules to meet, relationships to keep, to-do lists mounting), to slow down or switch off the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) we need to activate the parasympathetic nervous system or PNS. PNS is SNS’s calmed collected twin who tranquillises its ‘fight and protect’ sibling once the brain has acknowledged that the surrounding environment is safe and secure. In order to ignite the PNS’s torch we need to, quite simply, relax. This will send a message to the brain that we are no longer under threat and it is safe to be calm and collected.
So how do we actually make ourselves relax?
It sounds like an impossible task to tell your brain something that you clearly aren’t feeling but actually it is quite simple.
First make a list of all the things that make you happy or bring a smile to your face. It can be anything; person, place or thing. The fact is that joy calms us down. So all we need to do to relax is to connect ourselves somehow to that list. Go to that cafe where you love the coffee and have one, call that friend that makes you laugh out loud, take a hot bath, light some candles, read a book, do some exercise, practice yoga; whatever it is that makes YOU happy.
There are also methods we can use to help us unwind and make us capable of actively seeking that joy:
Slow, mindful breathing invokes the relaxation response in the body.
This helps you to enter the present moment in your mind, thus allowing you to then find your way to relax.
This helps to enter the present moment by way of the body.
This is a welcomed distraction and can trigger positive memories and emotions.
Taking a moment surrounded by nature can ground us and realise our place in the world.
Relaxes our physical body which in turn allows space for our mind to follow.
So once our PNS kicks in and our SNS is snoozing we open the door to potentially better health, creativity, and overall wellbeing…you may experience any or all of the following.
Relaxation is proven to protect us against depression and anxiety, keeping up the process can help shield us from the possibility.
Increased memory function
Studies show that when our brains are in a more relaxed state stronger and longer lasting memories are related.
Research shows that our state of mind is powerful, that it can affect our immune system, and in a relaxed state we are capable of functioning far better.
Improved heart health
This can take effect to the extent of actually reducing the risk of serious illnesses such as heart disease.
Stress can have a deep and volatile impression on a relationship and so the more relaxed we are, the more open we are to empathy and capable of sharing love. Stress prevents connection, if you’re stuck in fight or flight mode that is not going to bode well for a loving relationship. To relax is to be in a state to both give and receive love effectively.
Improve sleep patterns
If you’re stressed then sleep can definitely prove to be a big issue, and something not easy to achieve. Relaxation techniques can absolutely promote healthier sleep patterns, you just need to find what works for you.
Higher energy levels
Stress uses up energy, relaxation allows for more. It is that simple. If you practice managing your stress levels and ensure that your relaxation is an important factor within your day and your wellbeing, you will be able to conserve some of that energy and not use it all up on being tense.
Increase in creativity
Creativity needs solace, calm and connectivity in order to function effectively, quite often the most incredible creations are born from a moment of peace and quiet, where your brain is permitted to just be, to think without interruption. Meditation can help with assisting creativity.
Reduction of pain
Rather than head to the doctor or reach for the pain killers, hold off for a moment and instead try to relax, use your own techniques, meditation is very effective, and you may find that it can help to relieve the pain.
Nothing feels more stifled when you are tense, uptight and stressed than our motivation. Knowing in the back of your mind that you want to get started on something but having far too many things at the front of it getting in the way. Sound familiar? In order to release the desire to bring that to the forefront, you’ve guessed it – we need to practice relaxation!
Whether you’re feeling stressed or not, it may well be manifesting within you in some form or another, and if you want to proceed in life with optimum energy and motivation we need to take steps to find ways to relax. We are all unique and so finding what makes us tick as an individual is essential. Try some of the ideas above or go for something completely different, whatever works to help you relax.
Holistic Therapy Distance Learning Courses
Here at the School of Natural Health Sciences we offer many accredited courses to help with relaxation and stress management, such as: