On Wednesday 18th April I held a Women’s Health and Pamper night. It was a great success with some fantastic women coming along to be educated about stress and to learn some tips on how to reduce stress and its effects on our bodies. We also threw in some pampering too, both for the ladies to simply enjoy but to also reduce those stress levels, even if only for 5 minutes!
Stress can have such a big impact on our lives. That’s why I have written this blog to share some information with all of you to help you better understand stress, what it is and some tips on how to reduce stress and the impact it has on your life.
Unfortunately stress is such a misunderstood process by society and we often think of stress as a mental symptom rather than a physical state of being. Yes, we can absolutely feel mental symptoms of stress where we have a lot to stress or worry about in our lives and where we can be juggling a million things at once and feel overwhelmed with it all, but this is actually only a small part of what stress actually is and what it does to us.
Stress is a very important response in our body and it helps us with our short-term survival when we are under threat or in a potentially harmful situation and we need to respond quickly. Examples of where stress is a positive response include scenarios like;
- Getting cut off in traffic and needing to break suddenly
- Touching a hot plate and needing to quickly remove your hand
- Or the original scenario for this response, coming face to face with a sabre-toothed tiger (or other life-threatening situation)
These scenarios require us to have a quick reaction and respond to a situation fast to avoid harm, danger or potential death. The common theme among these scenarios is that they are short in duration and should only last a few minutes.
In the above situations our ‘Fight or Flight’ response (our stress response) is kick-started to ensure our best chance of survival. Our heart rate increases, cortisol increases and blood is diverted from our digestion to the bigger muscles in our legs and upper body so we can fight or flee. Our posture changes with our shoulders rounding forward, again so we can flee quickly or fight powerfully. When we overcome the stressful situation, we should return back to our ‘Rest and Digest’ mode which focuses on our long term survival, allowing blood back to the digestive system and having more focus on healing our body and improving our immune system.
The trouble is that times have changed from when we once faced sabre-toothed tigers, but our stress response hasn’t changed. These days, things like the blue light in screens on computers, tv’s, phones and tablets initiates the stress response. We have a lot more to think about and deal with these days, juggling work, family and friends, deadlines and pressures of what we should be doing and when we should be doing it, all of which switch on the stress response. Our posture at desks and sitting in cars contribute as well. Chemicals also surround us in our environment with cleaning and personal care products as well as the foods we eat, the beverages we drink and the air we breathe.
The sad news is that there is a lot in our lives these days that contributes to our bodies being stressed. The good news is that some of these things are within our control, so we can start to implement some new habits to reduce the overall stress put on our bodies.
Before I talk about some of the ways to reduce stress, let’s talk about what some of the effects of long-term stress are and signs to look for to note if you may be Sympathetically Dominant (over-stressed). When our body isn’t so focused on our long-term health, we tend to experience digestive issues like bloating, persistent constipation, persistent diarrhoea or a rumbly gut that just doesn’t feel great. We also start to experience poor immune function where we may be more susceptible to coughs, colds and flus or generally feeling fatigued and run down. Poor immune function over a longer period of time can also lead to autoimmune diseases. Due to the postural changes that occur during stress, over time we develop a slumped and rounded posture, straining the spine and muscles through our neck and shoulders making them become stiff and hard and can also create headaches. Our hormones also become imbalanced and we can experience feelings of irritability and moodiness as well as increased sensitivity to our environment.
Now that we better understand stress and what sympathetic dominance looks like, let’s look at how we can reduce the effects of stress. First we will consider reducing the chemical stressors. You can choose organic foods, and better yet you can have your blood tested to see exactly what foods are causing an inflammatory response in YOUR body. This is known as the IgG food sensitivity test and is different from the testing done for food allergies. It gives you a clear result as to what foods are causing inflammation in your gut and therefore in your body, and you can remove these foods for a few months to allow the gut and the body to heal.
You can also opt for natural and organic cleaning and personal care products or even have a go at making your own! One of the beauties of the technology we are surrounded by is the incredible amount of information out there on ‘hacks’ around the home and recipes for home cleaning and personal care products using everyday natural ingredients.
Emotional stressors can be a little trickier to remove because perhaps you have high stress at home, work, financially or otherwise. One of the best ways to help reduce emotional stress is to implement a meditation or mindfulness practice and again, our technology comes in handy here. With apps like ‘Headspace’, ‘Smiling Mind’ and ‘Insight Timer’ there are plenty of options to find a style of meditation that works into your every day with both free and paid options. Activities like yoga and pilates can also create space for meditation or mindfulness as well as adding benefits from the physical movements. Support for your emotional health can also be found through supplementation to support your adrenal function and allow you to better cope with the day-to-day stress of life.
Now let’s take a look at ways to reduce the physical stress in our lives… Laying on a posture pole or doing a corner stretch helps to open and stretch the chest, bring the shoulders back and return the head and neck to a neutral position. Spending some time in these positions that counter-act the stress posture help to reduce the stress response and activate your rest and digest mode. They’re also a great way to re-balance your upper body and release some tension through the tighter muscles that are contracted during the stress response. Getting checked by a Chiropractor has also been shown to help not only in a mechanical way but also neurologically, in promoting parasympathetic activation, so regular adjustments can help your body move and function better and allow your body to recover. I’ll take this opportunity to mention yoga again, as there are poses in yoga, particularly yin yoga, that specifically help reduce stress and promote the rest and digest mode of your nervous system.
Often when we become highly stressed for longer periods of time our bodies become overly sensitive and things like loud noises or bright lights can seem too much sometimes. An example of this if coming home from work to a noisy household and having to juggle things like getting dinner cooked and the kids ready for bed time – then all of a sudden one of the kids drops something on the floor and it’s a deafening crash, you cringe, your blood boils and you lose your temper insisting that the kids just sit down and be quiet. In this scenario, the child dropping something on the floor wasn’t actually a deafening noise, but to an already over-loaded nervous system, it is too much to handle in that moment and so we find ourselves easily irritated and overly moody. Utilising things like red lens glasses to block out the blue light in the screens of your home and office helps to reduce that sensory overload. There are also settings on most smart phones, tablets and even computers to use a filter on the screen and reduce the blue light. Another option is to wear ear plus during the evening to help soften the noises of your household and again, reduce that sensory input.
So as you can see, being in a highly stressed state isn’t a great long-term option for our bodies and there are many signs and symptoms to look out for when your body is trying to cope with too much stress. It’s always a great idea to listen to your body and take action before things snow-ball into a bigger problem.
If you’re in the western suburbs of Adelaide, I highly recommend taking part in a yin yoga class at Eclipse Hot Yoga in Hilton. You will leave the class feeling relaxed, less stressed and more mobile.
Finally, if you ticked the boxes for any of the symptoms of sympathetic dominance and are interested in having a chat about how I may be able to help you, please feel free to contact me for further information or book an appointment online here. Happy de-stressing!