During my five years working in the media industry I constantly lived in a state of "fight or flight". As a result, I walked away with a string of bizarre, debilitating health problems. I visited countless doctors, specialists, naturopaths, nutritionists and so on. I changed my diet, my lifestyle, my exercise habits, everything. And nothing worked.
It wasn't until one night during my yoga teacher training while learning about the nervous system that my overall problem finally dawned on me... I was dealing with a serious stress-hangover! After this realization I made a huge effort to understand how I could take better care of myself to reduce the symptoms of stress and improve my overall wellbeing. Here's what I learned:
The Sympathetic Nervous System (also known as the "fight or flight" response) is our bodies survival system, and is responsible for igniting the body in preparation for action. When the SNS kicks in, our body is flooded with stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, giving us a jolt of energy needed to react to a situation of perceived danger. These days the SNS is often used in overdrive as a response to emotional, environmental and lifestyle stress (caused by work, relationships, money pressures etc). Given our modern day, fast-paced lifestyle wreaks havoc on the Sympathetic Nervous System, it's important to include practices in your day-to-day to minimise stress and ultimately improve your health.
This is where a combination of mindfulness, yoga and meditation can have an amazing effect on the mind and body. My number one tip for treating the nervous system is to SLOW DOWN. While not everyone can afford to quit their stressful jobs, it's important to remember that YOU are ultimately in control of the way you respond to stressful situations.
My five tips for slowing down, unwinding and de-stressing are:
- Stop rushing. Life is not a race! And no one will die if you're 10 minutes late. So slow... down... It's your life and you get to set the pace. No more bashing out emails at a rapid fire pace, running from one thing to the next, and driving like a maniac. Just slow down. It will be okay.
- When a stressful situation arises, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Just one slow inhalation and exhalation can inhibit the activation of the SNS, and instead bring you back to a place of calm.
- Schedule time for 'disconnected relaxation'. Read, get a massage, or go for a gentle walk. And most importantly, leave your phone behind.
- Eat three regular meals at similar times each day. Eat mindfully. Sit down. Don't answer emails, text messages or phone calls. This is hugely relaxing for the body, and will aid in the digestive process.
- Turn your phone onto 'Do Not Disturb' mode at night, preferably 1-2 hours before bed time. It's so important for your health to get a good night's sleep. Having a couple of hours without technology before bed time will help you to unwind, and prepare yourself for sleep, while switching to 'Do Not Disturb' will also prevent your friend who lives in London or NYC waking you up with text messages at 3am!
And lastly, to give your body the best change for de-stressing, include 1-2 of the following practices in your everyday life:
- Restorative Yoga
- Yoga Nidra
- Pranayama practices such as Nadi Sodhana, Brahmari, or Sitali
I hope this article helps you to commit to providing yourself with a little more nurturing and nourishment. I'd love to hear your experiences with stress so please feel free to leave a comment.