Common stressors, such as, money, family, traffic, relationships, work and time impact most people daily. My seven strategies below allow you to take a quick break from these stressors and regroup.
What happens to your body when under stress
The body's autonomic nervous system (ANS) regulates involuntary actions of the body, such as, your heart pumping and digestion. There are two subdivisions of the ANS:
1) parasympathetic, aka "rest-and-digest"
2) sympathetic, aka "fight-or-flight"
The "fight-or-flight" division is what gets your adrenaline pumping when you're startled or gives you crazy, superhuman strength in an emergency. You're in the sympathetic division during the "E's"; emergency, exercise, excitement and embarrassment.
Below are some of the effects on the body when in "fight-or-flight".
Adrenals secrete epinephrine and norepinephrine, aka adrenaline
Blood is diverted away from digestive organs to your heart, brain and limbs (so you can run fast or fight better)
Glucose is released from the liver into your bloodstream. Read here to find out why this isn't good to have excess sugar in your bloodstream on the daily.
Your pupils dilate to improve distant vision
Your heart rate increases to get blood flow to your limbs
Blood pressure increases
Your breath becomes rapid and deep
You get sweaty and hair follicles are stimulated to produce "goose bumps"
I'm sure you've had a situation that has caused these effects and even though it happens in a split second, the effects linger and we often "need a minute" to calm back down.
Health impacts of chronic stress
Don't get me wrong, these are all great things when they are truly needed, but you shouldn’t be walking from your desk to the copier ready to take out a grizzly. Your body isn’t meant to be in "fight-or-flight" 24/7. In fact, the body should be in "rest-and-digest" and occasionally dip into "fight-or-flight". Being in "rest-and-digest" means there is less stress on your heart, blood pressure is normalized and your body can digest and absorb the nourishing foods you're consuming.
Being chronically stressed and in "fight-or-flight" for the majority of the day can lead to many health issues, such as:
poor thyroid function
high blood pressure
But who isn't stressed??? Everyone has some level of stress from time to time and if it's not one of the common stressors I mentioned above, it might be a physical stressor. You may be recovering from surgery, managing an autoimmune condition or combating the common cold, which are also stressors to the body. Exercise is also a stress on the body.
What is 5 minutes going to accomplish?
A lot! I know it sounds crazy, but it's true. Taking 5 minutes a day to get out of "fight-or-flight" can make a huge difference in your overall health. Just as the effects of "fight-or-flight" linger, the more time you spend in a relaxed, parasympathetic state the better chance you have staying there. Being mindful of your stress level and taking action gets easier the more you do it. I was able to recognize it much quicker and immediately take action with one of my seven strategies after only a short time implementing this practice.
7 ways to reduce your time in "Fight-or-Flight"
Here are seven of my favorite ways to de-stress, pause or regroup. Find one that resonates with you and try to incorporate into your daily routine. It can be difficult to establish a new habit so pair it with something else you already do or set a reminder on your phone until you can practice it intuitively.
You may find that you need more than one tool, such as, one for the car, one for the office and one at home. I tend to use all seven for just that reason!
#1 - Deep Breathing
We simply don’t breathe deeply throughout our day. Taking five slow, deep breaths can lower your blood pressure, slow your heart rate and relax tense areas is the body.
Try it: Inhale through your nose for a count of four and exhale through your mouth, slowly for a count of four.
Take it to the next level: Close your eyes to relax even deeper or diffuse some relaxing essential oils like lavender, chamomile or sandalwood.
#2 - Meditate
I used to think meditation was very “woo woo” but then I tried it. It’s simply wonderful. In fact, I used this as a way to fall asleep when my eczema was at it’s worst and it was nearly impossible to get sleep. It’s very relaxing and I was able to drift right into sleep.
Try it: Download a free app to get started with a guided meditation. There are many options but I’ve tried Headspace, Breathe and Calm.
Take it to the next level: Start a streak! Try to find time in every day for 5-10 minutes of meditation a day. You can do it any time as long as you get it in.
#3 - Gratitude
Having a gratitude practice can be a great way to keep you grounded. It’s a moment to reflect on the positive and be grateful for something or someone in your life. It can be something big or something as small as someone holding the door for you. Some people like to implement this when they wake each day while others find it to be a great thing to do before bed. Find what works best for you.
Try it: If you’re a visual person I highly recommend writing it down. Get a cheap notebook or use the note app on your phone. Just start with one thing you’re grateful for each day.
Take it to the next level: Try to write down five things you’re grateful for each day.
#4 - Color
Coloring is a great way to relax. There are so many adult coloring books out now you can get one just about anywhere. I’ve seen many that have inspirational quotes which I absolutely love.
Take it to the next level: Try to find time during a break or at lunch to color or make it a part of your bedtime routine. Even 5 minutes can make a difference.
#5 - Walk
Exercise can be very beneficial for the mind and body, but if you are chronically stressed you may need to change up your exercise routine to something less stressful to the body, like yoga or walking. Working out hard when you’re already stressed is no longer beneficial. It can lead to injury and may also be the "last straw" in many cases.
Try it: Go for brief walks throughout the day, park farther away, take the long way when you get up from your desk or take a stroll after dinner.
Take it to the next level: Try to incorporate a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise a day.
#6 - LOL
We are all typing LOL, but are we actually laughing out loud? Whether you’re doing the laughing or making someone else laugh the benefit is the same. The oxytocin released makes you feel good from your head to your toes. A deep belly laugh that leaves your face hurting is good for more than just your six pack abs. 😝
Try it: Tell a corny joke, watch a funny video or catch up with a friend.
Take it to the next level: Make at least five people smile each day. Hold a door, make eye contact and smile as you pass them or share a witty exchange.
#7 - Drink a Cup of Tea
Have a cup of herbal tea. There is something about the ritual of waiting for my tea to steep and holding that warm mug in my hands that make me slow down.
Take it to the next level: Try to incorporate this practice throughout your day.
Take a minute to reflect on your day and become aware of your stress level. Do you feel like stress is impacting your health? Self-care isn’t selfish or a luxury...it’s a necessity. You need to put your own oxygen mask on first. Take time, even if it’s only five minutes, every single day to find a way to nourish yourself.