Stress is something that everyone will deal with from time. Sometimes we experience more of it and other times we hardly feel like there is any stress. But, no matter what level of stress you have, there are ways to help! In fact, stress is a necessary response our bodies have adapted to keep us alive. From making deadlines at work, studying for exams or just driving around and dealing with traffic on a daily basis, stress is unavoidable. One problem I see is that stress is widely accepted to be a part of our life and people just accept they will be stressed but don’t give their body the tools needed to relax.
To understand what happens physically, we have to look at our nervous system. Our bodies have two distinct branches that regulate all the functions of our body. The Sympathetic Nervous System (our fight or flight response) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (the rest and digest portion). Where both of these are crucial to our health and survival, only ONE may be active at a time. Similar to a light switch that is on or off, our bodies are either in a Sympathetic or a Parasympathetic response. The typical stress response that one feels is related to the Sympathetic Nervous System. This is responsible for that fight or flight feeling we have all too often felt with daily stress. We don’t always need to have an intense stress response. We can have low levels of stress that may feel normal. Where the Sympathetic response is needed for basic survival reasons, chronically being in this state is detrimental to one’s health. Being in a chronically stressed state will start to affect functions in our body such as food digestion, hormones, sleep patterns, muscle growth is reduced and can even be reversed, blood sugar and blood pressure issues can be seen and eventually chronic stress will start to decrease our immune system and will lead to sickness.
So, with this information, how can we help our bodies decrease stress and reduce the amount of sympathetic response to keep us healthier and stress-free? Below are a few of my favorite, simple, and basically free ways to reduce stress:
- Getting adjusted: Consistent chiropractic adjustments have been linked to decreasing stress levels, lowering blood pressure, and increasing a general sense of well being. One method of how this works is that a chiropractic adjustment focuses on removing the interference in the nervous system which are called subluxations. These subluxations are what causes stress and disruption in the nervous system. By adjusting and removing this interference, the body is able to adapt to the decreased stress and is literally turning back on the Parasympathetic Nervous System. Stress is also reduced by the realigning of the spine through adjustment and easing muscle tension that we feel while stressed.
- Exercise: Exercising works to decrease stress by releasing endorphins (our bodies’ natural pain killers). The benefits of releasing these endorphins through exercise are that they will reduce our level of stress simply by creating a sense of euphoria and well-being. The expression “runner’s high” is an example of endorphins at work. If you already work out, keep it up! But if you are looking to start, a simple walk around your neighborhood is enough to start to reduce stress.
- Deep breathing: Breathing exercises have been used to decrease stress, anxiety, blood pressure and improve sleep for ages. A quick easy way to do this is belly breathing. Place one hand on your chest, the other on your belly. Breathe in your nose for 2-4 seconds and feel your belly expand then exhale for 2-4 seconds and repeat. Breathing has been shown to shift our bodies from a sympathetic to a parasympathetic state.
- Healthy diet: By eating a healthy well-balanced diet rich in healthy fats (such as olive oil, coconut oil, avocados and Omega-3’s), fruits, veggies, nuts, combined with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, we are providing our bodies with the fuel and resources to combat the effects of chronic stress.
- Journaling: One of my favorite ways to reduce stress is a gratitude journal. This is when I sit down before bed and reflect on the day. By writing down three parts of the day you are grateful for, you can change the focus of your mind from negative moments that added stress to your life to the moments that inspired you. A bonus tip is to write down an additional three things you are excited to do tomorrow.