It's no secret that the last two years have been some of the most stressful and traumatic years of our lives, collectively. Being in this perpetual state of worry takes its toll on the body, and if you haven't started caring for your nervous system yet- now is definitely the time.
Stress. We might think we have it under control, but the reality for most of us is that we are living in a sympathetic-dominant state. Our sympathetic nervous system, one of the two divisions of our autonomic nervous system, plays a really important role when we are in life-threatening danger. Picture our prehistoric ancestors, roaming around in the mountains wearing one of those funny animal hyde skirts, being stalked by a saber-toothed tiger. This situation is the reason we evolved to have this stress response. We need to decide whether we will fight, flee, or freeze. And our body needs to be ready for whichever decision we make.
What's Happening In The Body?
“The problem is, in our modern world, this tiger is actually a passive-aggressive email from the boss. It's the traffic on the way to work, or the stress of trying to keep up with the Jones'. And...it's constant."
When our body perceives that we are in imminent danger, our brain signals a cascade of hormones that results in the production of epinephrine, or adrenaline, from our adrenal glands. This tells the body to speed up our heart rate, send blood flow and glucose to the muscles, and decrease blood flow to the skin and other seemingly "unncessary" organs. Remember, our primary focus is to RUN, HIDE, or FIGHT this tiger that's about to kill us. This response is our body's way of protecting us, and it is in no way wrong. I have so much gratitude for my body that is capable of all of these amazing things. The problem is, in our modern world, this tiger is actually a passive-aggressive email from the boss. It's the traffic on the way to work, or the stress of trying to keep up with the Jones'. And...it's constant.
Types of Stress
Some would say there are three major types of stress, but I like to say four. Physical stress, being accidents, injuries, or physical traumas, chemical stress, which includes bacteria, viruses, hormones in foods, heavy metals, and varying blood sugar levels, emotional stress, like financial trouble, relationship problems, loss, and the final one to consider- perceived stress. I added this last one in because I believe it's important to consider that the way we PERCEIVE things can change our physiology. We often create our own stress, which in turn leads to this stress response cascade, just by seeing a situation the way we choose to see it. Or by letting the chatter of our minds dictate how we feel about a situation in our lives. For example, having unanswered emails in your inbox. For some, with proper boundaries around screen-time and work/life balance, this email could wait until work hours. But for others, just knowing that it's there will trigger a stress response.
Symptoms of Chronic Stress
"Disease shows up when we are in a state of dis-ease, mental or physical.”
When stress becomes chronic, and we don't as often or as easily activate our parasympathetic nervous system, dis-ease ensues. I like to say dis-ease as opposed to disease to emphasize the fact that disease shows up when we are in a state of dis-ease, mental or physical. When something is awry in the body, we are given this warning sign. It's a gift, really. To have a body that communicates with us so clearly.
As I mentioned before, during a stress response our bodies resources are taken to the heart and muscles, and taken away from basically everything else. This is energy that is normally used to digest and assimilate food, detoxify and clean up cellular waste, rest and repair tissues, and perform countless other vital functions in the body. When we reside more often in that sympathetic dominant state, we are preventing the healing and repair of our bodies. This causes degeneration and disease. Some warning signs to look out for are low energy, depression or anxiety, frequent headaches, pale skin, hair loss, poor digestion, insomnia, frequent illness/infections, and loss of sexual desire or ability. When under prolonged stress our body has a higher demand for nutrients, and we can become easily depleted, leading to imbalances and an overall lack of vitality.
Ways To Reduce Stress and Increase Vitality
Identify your triggers and root causes. This one is big- once you bring awareness to something, it is has already begun to change.
Practice sleep hygiene. Wake up with the sun, and try to get off of all electronics + blue light at LEAST one hour before you plan to go to sleep. Create a little wind-down routine that prepares your body and mind for sleep, and include some of my Nourishing Nervine herbal infusion blend if you're feeling called.
Evaluate your exercise habits. People experiencing chronic stress should not be engaging in daily high-intensity exercise. This is especially true for women. Cardio and HIIT are lovely when done at the proper time during your cycle, and when you have recovered from chronic stress.
Spend time in nature. Nature has the power to influence us on a physiological level. Spending a total of 120 minutes per week outdoors (can be spread out over 7 days or done all together) has been proven to reduce stress and promote mental wellbeing. Being in nature lowers blood pressure!
Yoga and Meditation: These practices are like medicine, seriously. Yoga teaches us the power of our mind-body connection, strengthens and relaxes muscles, and clears the mind. Meditation teaches us to be with our thoughts without attaching to them, one of the triggers for perceived stress.
Hydration, nutrition, and supplementation: Hydrate yourself with filtered water and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Eat a plant-focused diet. Try to consume room temperature or warm beverages. Consider supplementing with magnesium, a B-vitamin complex, and vitamin C. Add herbal adaptogens into your self care routine with my Calm + Cool Capsules!
I hope WE (yeah... I've had a pretty dang stressful year or so) can start to apply some of these things into our day-to-day lives so that we can kick our butts into a parasympathetic state more often. Because truly, our lives kind of depend on it. I forgot to mention that when we get used to living in such a stressed-out state, we get addicted to it. We get addicted to that adrenaline coursing through our veins, and we start to feel uncomfortable when we slow down and rest. It's okay for this process to feel uncomfortable at first. Stick with it. We all deserve rest. We did not come to Earth to be as productive as we can be and grind through life! Relax. Enjoy. Drink your damn tea.