Is stress wearing out your nervous system?
Learn what’s happening and use the 7 tools below to relieve stress quickly.
Your body listens to your thoughts, feels your stress, and readies you to flee or fight.
The CDC cites stress as the leading cause of disease. If you are living in stress, it is exacerbating all of the challenges you’re facing.
“Certain types of chronic and more insidious stress due to loneliness, poverty, bereavement, depression and frustration due to discrimination are associated with impaired immune system resistance to viral linked disorders ranging from the common cold and herpes to AIDS and cancer. Stress can have effects on hormones, brain neurotransmitters, additional small chemical messengers elsewhere, prostaglandins, as well as crucial enzyme systems, and metabolic activities that are still unknown. Research in these areas may help to explain how stress contributes to depression, anxiety and its diverse effects on the gastrointestinal tract, skin, and other organs.” Stress.org
In addition to causing physical aging and disease, stress blocks inspiration, creative flow, and the ability to see the bigger picture. From this contracted space, we cannot create success, happiness, health, or joy.
What is stress?
Stress is the result of your thinking. It comes from your thoughts about what you’re focusing on. Whether something is stressful or not is highly subjective. Many people experiencing today’s global challenge are not feeling stressed. I am among them.
I don’t have special qualities. I have lived a life that’s presented massive upheaval and life-changing challenges, and it taught me that I can control what I allow to occur inside of me. I can control what I focus on. I can choose not to undermine myself or allow outside influences or circumstances to undermine me. I have worked myself up into frenzies that left me trembling in corners and relegated to desperation so intense that I just gave up.
At rock bottom, I discovered how to operate my mind and body. I learned how my systems work and that if I wanted to thrive and connect with higher forces, I had to live at that level of energy.
The good news is you can learn how to quickly relieve stress and make it a habit.
What happens in your body when you’re stressed?
Here’s a look inside the body’s response to your thoughts about events. Remember, when you perceive life as scary and threatening, you feel stressed. When you perceive life as an experience with challenges that you can handle, you feel empowered. The state you end up in dictates how your autonomic nervous system responds.
Your body’s autonomic nervous system is made up of the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. The following table and graphic illustrate their different effects. While you read, consider which system is most often activated in your body.
|Parasympathetic Response – Relax and Renew||Sympathetic Response – Stress and Defend|
|decreased blood pressure||increased blood pressure|
|hormones of relaxation and regulation flow (acetylcholine, oxytocin)||stress hormones spike and circulate (cortisol, epinephrine)|
|body relaxes and feels safe||body readies to flee from danger|
|digestion increases as blood flows||digestion slows as blood is diverted|
|feel calm, relaxed, able to assess circumstances patiently, and reasonably, flexible thought, open to higher solutions, responsive||feel anxious, charges, unable to rest, or think with altitude, hyper-vigilant, over-focused, reactive|
Your goal is to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, and training yourself to regularly do practices that relieve stress is a primary way to do this.
7 Tools to Relieve Stress Quickly
As you practice the following approaches, you’ll build new stress prevention and alleviation habits. Make time for at least ONE of these body-loving habits a day. When you’ve made a habit of one add one more.
1) Breathing is my go-to step when I need to relieve stress quickly. Breathe like a baby. Four to five minutes of proper breathing moves the body away from a stress response into a relaxation response. Inhale into your belly for a count of five. Pause for a count of five. Exhale slowly for a count of five. Pause for a count of five.
2) Meditate. Meditation is not thinking with your eyes closed. That’s a formula to say stressed and will not create any changes. Effective meditation is a fast from thinking. Focus on your breathing. If you find it challenging to get quiet. Follow a guided meditation. I have some free ones here.
3) Massage and touch. If you have loved ones you’re affectionate with, consider massaging each other. If you have a pet, devote 10-15 minutes to just petting and connecting with them. If you’re alone, use a pleasant oil and rub your own hands, arms, neck, and shoulders. All of these bring you into the present and help the body relax.
4) Take a news and media fast: Smartphone use has been shown to increase heart rate and blood pressure and lower autonomic nervous system activity. Take a break from all news and social media and get back in touch with living in the present without being bombarded with fear and inferiority-inducing information.
5) Exercise has a miraculous effect on relaxation, hormones, depression, and well-being. It’s like taking anti-depressants without the side effects. Find something that works for you. Yoga, pilates, and tai chi are all available on Youtube. Walk in nature. Stretch and do 20 push-ups, 50 squats, and 30 sit-ups (work up to this and take your time). Repeat 2-4 times if you’re conditioned. Clean your house with passion. Dance. Get creative.
6) Get outside under the sky and trees. Breathe and let nature restore and ground you. Stop thinking and put all of your attention on the living plants and animals around you.
7) Cultivate rejuvenating pleasure. What makes you feel really good and has no negative consequence? Do that. This rules out barrels of bonbons and a 72-hour Netflix fest. Consider being creative. Do you like to draw, paint, write, dance, sing?
BONUS TIP: Be around people who make you feel loved, make you laugh, help you talk through problems with compassion and intelligence, or inspire you.