Stress is a naturally occurring reaction to life’s’ events, demands, and challenges. Not all stress is unhealthy, in fact, it can be good for you.
Exercise stresses the body, this stress increases your strength, flexibility, and endurance. When preparing for a deadline or presentation, you may feel anxious. These stresses are what most of us experience at some stage in life and are defined as acute stress.
Prolonged stress is defined as chronic stress and is harmful to your well-being.
Examples of Chronic stresses include:
Work or relationship pressures
During stress your body releases stress hormones, these hormones activate your sympathetic nervous system; your brain becomes alert, your heart rate and breathing increase, your muscles become tense. You are ready to take flight or fight.
When constantly exposed to stressors, your body remains in a heightened state even when there is no stressor, this leaves you at risk of health problems.
When our natural stress response hits overdrive from being in a chronically stressed state you may experience:
Weight loss, or weight gain
Stiffness in neck and jaws
Use of alcohol and drugs to relax
What happens within your body when you experience stress?
Stress affects every part of you, right down to your cells and hormones.
Within the Central Nervous System your hypothalamus, which is located in your brain, sends messages to your adrenal glands to release cortisol and adrenalin to activate your Sympathetic Nervous System. These hormones prepare your body for action by increasing your blood pressure, making your heart beat faster to supply blood to your muscles and some organs, your muscles become tense, your digestive activity slows down, your liver converts glycogen to glucose for energy, your bronchioles dilate, and your breathing becomes heavier, you become alert and ready for action.
This is great in an emergency situation, or when preparing for important activities. When the stressor or perceived threat has gone your hypothalamus sends messages to your Central Nervous System to return to normal.
When your body is in a prolonged and chronically stressed state this response continues. This ongoing response depletes many systems in your body, and you may find yourself living life in a state of urgency without realising it.
How do you calm an overstimulated nervous system?
Your body is an amazing organism, and you have the ability to stimulate a part of your neurological system to help you feel calmer, more relaxed, less reactive, and happier. How incredible is that?
This system is the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS)
Your PNS is also known as “rest and digest”, whereas your Sympathetic Nervous System is known as “fight or flight.”
Your PNS is responsible for:
Constricting your pupils
Stimulating saliva and gastric secretions to aid digestion
Reducing your heart rate
Aids in the flow and excretion of urine
Vasodilation (opening of blood vessels)
Inhibits the release of glucose
Stimulates the gall bladder
Induces feelings of calm and a sense of contentment
Diaphragmatic breathing is a wonderful way to calm your overstimulated nervous system. Otherwise known as “Belly breathing” Diaphragmatic breathing is something you did naturally when you were a baby, as stress accumulates in your body, your breathing becomes shallower.
Initially, it can be challenging to do, with patience, practice, and perseverance, you will soon experience noticeable changes in your energy and stress levels.
- Start by sitting, or lying in a comfortable position
- Allow your shoulders, neck, and jaw to relax
- Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach
- Inhale through your nose, as you inhale breathe into your abdomen, notice your stomach expanding and your chest remains fairly still
- Exhale slowly, you can do this through your nose, alternatively, it can be nice to let out a sigh on your exhale
- Repeat this for 6 – 10 rounds for best results and practice often to retrain the way you breathe.
Finding healthy ways to manage stress is important to your well-being.
If you’re feeling fuzzy and frazzled and would like to learn ways to manage your stress effectively, join me on my upcoming Nourish Your Nervous System Retreat.
You can find full retreat details here:
Rebecca Hannan is known as The Momentum Maker. Your workplace wellness expert. Specialising in working with organisations, and whole communities to take back control of your life so you can live and work WELL.
Rebeca’s passion and enthusiasm for living and working well is infectious. Her mission is to educate, inspire, and empower you to take back control of your life so you can live and lead a life of wellness.
She is the author of The 30 Day Momentum Maker Challenge workbook. A book crafted with love to help you get out of your funk and into your flow.
Wife, mother, entrepreneur, runner, yoga lover, salad queen, chaos buster………The Momentum Maker