If you suffer from feeling anxious or are having a stressful patch in your life that lasts more than a couple of days, you may have experienced some secondary symptoms of stress. This varies from person to person, but could include disrupted sleep, feelings of tightness in your chest, or a shorter than average fuse!
There are a couple of great methods to deal with stress and anxiety using physical movement, like yoga or meditation, which are available to everyone and are suitable even for a beginner. They can reset your nervous system and promote feelings of calm and well being. But let's see what happens in your body when you're stressed all the time.
The Autonomic Nervous System
The ANS is a part of the entire nervous system as a whole. It takes responsibility for the automatic parts of your bodily functions - breathing, heartbeat, digestion; it's even the part that puts your hands out if you've tripped over! The ANS responds to your environment and individual circumstances, triggering a cascade of processes that help you to react to changing circumstances and situations without having to think about it. There are two main parts to the ANS:
There's no way to clinically "reset" your nervous system. But there are methods you can use to create a sense of balance and normality - as that feels to you. For example, if you suffer from feelings of anxiety, you could benefit from some deep breathing meditation exercises which will stimulate the parasympathetic response and promote feelings of restfulness. Similarly, if you feel sluggish, you could activate the sympathetic nervous system by going for an invigorating run.
Most of us could use a little more parasympathetic response though, and some practical stress management tips which can turn down the ANS's sympathetic branch a little. It's horrible for you to feel stressed all the time. Chronic stress - that which lasts a long time - can have a negative, and extensive impact on the quality of life, including how long we live!
How To Reset
If you feel like you're in a state of chronic long term stress, or experience frequent anxiety, taking time to plan relaxing activities into your day is a must. There are many excellent practices which can calm the nervous system, including restorative yoga practices, meditation and breathwork. All these activities have one thing in common; taking slow, deliberate, deep, full breaths. This practice of deep breathing can invoke the parasympathetic nervous system.
Breathing is an unusual activity because it's both involuntary and unconscious but can also be voluntary and conscious. So it's one of a few disciplines we've got that can intentionally calm us down. If you're new to breathwork, you could start by trying counting your breaths, which involves breathing in for a count of 5, holding for a count of 5, and exhaling for a count of 8. Doing this for a few intentional rounds takes less than 2 minutes, and needs no special equipment at all. You can repeat this throughout the day any time you feel yourself getting anxious.
Other people use other methods, such as a mindfulness walk. This involves spending time outside in nature, and fully engaging your senses - thinking about what you can hear, see, smell, and feel. Hugging someone you love can promote oxytocin - especially if it's skin to skin. This can eliminate stress and promote feelings of positivity and calm. People also report positive changes with gratitude journaling. You can write down the people, things and circumstances for which you're grateful every day.
In the short term, parasympathetic resets can help. If you find yourself battling stress all the time, and it's been a while, you should focus on reducing and eliminating stressors in your life that keep your Fight or Flight response on alert all the time. It's exhausting to be stressed and anxious all the time, and eventually, it will take the toll on your longevity.
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