In the never-ending quest for balance and total well-being, I went to another workshop about stress relief. Taught by 2 women I feel blessed just to be able to hear speak on any movement/body subject. Irene Dowd (dancer and movement teacher extraordinaire) led us through visualizations and somatic explorations to release stress from our physical bodies while Rebecca Deitzal (bio-chemical/nutritional information powerhouse) explained the physiology of stress and how to use food to mitigate any negative side effects.
The mind/body connection was confirmed again and further illuminated in the workshop.
To be clear about how we relate to stress: Stress is neither good nor bad. It is our relationship to it that dictates how we will be affected by it. In my blog post about telomere health you saw that having a less fearful/anxious`outlook when confronting challenge is the make or break for biological health and the quality of our aging.
Let’s all get on the same page and define what stress is. In this context, stress is a stimulus that creates a nervous system reaction. (This is a bit of a mixed definition borrowing from the workshop, the dictionary and Tom Myers). In fact, a webinar I watched by Tom Myers states that for every 7 sympathetic responses we have (fight or flight response) we should engage the parasympathetic response (rest/digest/relax). Past and current research continues to make the path to achieving total health clear and it is paved with practices that keep us aware of what we’re feeling and how to support ourselves in moving physiological stress responses out of the body.
If you work out and engage in beneficial stress (being aware of what you can properly handle, experiencing successful outcomes from some physical challenge) it’s still important to cool down properly. All the cooling down and stretching that happens after a rigorous workout is there, in part, to help regulate your nervous system. You don’t want to leave your workout as revved up as when you successfully deadlifted your heaviest weight. It doesn’t always have to be a 20-minutes stretching routine. It can be regulating your breath in order to leave the vigorous work behind as you engage with the world in another way.
If you had a really tiresome and stressful day that involved running around and you feel zapped/toasted/busted by the time you get home, that’s your body telling you that you need a break from the stress responses that engaged your flight/fight mechanism (perhaps more than 7x in that day). Finding a few minutes to shift your emotional and mental energy to a more relaxed place can take time and practice (and a ritual or 2), but will mitigate the unhealthy effect that kind of stress can have on the physical self.
If you had a nasty conversation that involved hurt feelings that you don’t know how to manage or if you are carrying emotional stress/baggage that is unresolved it can have the same negative cumulative effect on your physical body that other physical stressors can have (I.e. Weakened immune system, unwanted weight gain/loss, shortened telomeres, etc.).
Continuous small stressors and emotional stressors can have the same cumulative effects as chronic stress does that is related to more dramatic events, such as PTSD from a violent trauma.
So what do you do about it?
Here’s your stress reduction and achieve total health blueprint:
#1) Find a practice that helps you to move stress out of the body (every blog post of ours is basically this same message over and over. There’s a reason. Start paying attention.)
Move your body. Irene shared amazing humming practices, bouncing movements and visualizations that helped everyone in the room to relax. If that is too weird for you start moving your body in any way you can with consistency:
Any physical activity that allows you to lose sense of time and is enjoyable
#2) Emotionally start addressing your baggage, negative thought patterns or whatever internal demons are driving you nuts. Get a therapist, a support group or some teacher that can show you how to develop the skills necessary to navigate life without sacrificing your wellbeing.
In essence, take responsibility for how you experience the world/your environment/people. Sounds a little preachy, right? Well, it is. So suck it and start taking care of yourself emotionally just like you would invest in your physical wellbeing. Your emotional self is the key to your physical health. #psychoneuroimmmunobiologyanyone?
I’m telling you this not to criticize or shame you. It took me a while to get it too. This is a statement meant to empower you. YAAAAAS, Kween!!!!!
#3) Feed yourself well. This means different food habits for different people. If you can’t afford a nutritionist yet just try to listen to the voice of your body and feel how different foods affect you. It doesn’t have to get complicated. If you can invest in a nutritionist it could change your life. My well being and health feels much more secure because of what Rebecca has taught me. I’m very grateful to her.
General rule: Eat more whole and unprocessed foods than you do processed ones. Natural foods like fresh fruits and vegetables have the power to defend your system against harmful stress. But so do spices and herbs and different methods used to prepare foods. But don’t get overwhelmed. Just start educating yourself a little about food. A little knowledge goes a long way.
#4) Sleep/restore more if you can. Obviously a huge subject here, so if this is difficult for you just know you are not alone. Start by taking baby steps that calm your nervous system from being over stimulated. Take breaks of quietness throughout the day to quiet your brain. Making this a habit can make quieting the mind to fall asleep easier. Definitely include giving your electronics a break especially before bed. So step away from computers and your phone about an hour before bed. Fall asleep reading a print book instead of a tablet.