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  • Robyn Taaffe

Stressed? Try These Tools to Relax

Updated: May 21

We love to write about Stress. It's a big area of health and we've all experienced it. Life is fast, busy and hectic.


Our Central Nervous System (CNS) controls most of the functions of our body and mind. Within this system, is our Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous System.


The Fight or flight response comes from your Sympathetic nervous system. This helps when you encounter a life threatening or highly stressful situation. Your body releases a surge of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. They prepare you to fight, or run a mile from whatever the danger is. Your heart rate speeds up, muscles tense and you're on high alert.


When this happens a lot, all of the hormones don't have anywhere to go. Most of the time, we're stressed because we have so much to deal with. We aren't actually put in life threatening situations every day (We hope not), but this still activates this response in our body. The low grade chronic stress can cause high blood pressure, an increased heart rate and muscle tension. We want to avoid this.


Meet The Relaxation Response. This is the opposite to fight or flight, and brings our body back to pre-stress. It's a place of deep relaxation that brings in the Parasympathetic nervous system. This is also known as Rest and Digest mode. There's lots of evidence to show that when you're in this relaxed response a lot, any health problems that pop up or get worse due to stress can improve. Very cool.


Finding time to create this relaxing state is seriously important. We need that space and some inner peace in our lives. It helps us show up, improves relationships and cope with stress.


We have a big nerve in our body called The Vagus Nerve. When it's stimulated, it activates the relaxation response. We can activate this response by taking Belly Breaths.


Deep breathing, Meditation, Visualisation, Mindful movement, Yoga and any activity that breaks the train of everyday thoughts. We need space away from the constant noise of life.


We love teaching how to activate a relaxation mode. It’s a lovely way to understand what our body is doing, and why we feel the way we do. We need to ground ourselves, connect and align to develop inner strength and resilience. We're human, we need a break sometimes.


Here's 4 to get you started:


#1 Deep Abdominal Breathing


This can be done anywhere at any time. We always have our breath, so reach for this one a lot:


  • Sit or lie or stand placing you hand on your abdomen.

  • Inhale through your nose filling your abdomen with air.

  • With each inhale, notice your hand rising.

  • Exhale through your nose and notice your belly falling.

  • Repeat

  • You can also place a book on your stomach and observe it rising and falling with each breath.

  • If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the breath.


Why (The Science): Belly breathing stimulates The vagus nerve , which runs from our head down the neck, through our chest, and our colon. This nerve has so many sensory functions within our body and activates our relaxation response, reducing our heart rate and blood pressure, and lowering stress levels.


#2 Body Scan Meditation


  • Begin by getting comfortable and breathing for a minute.

  • Shift your attention to your feet and notice how they're feeling.

  • Imagine each breath reaching your feet and as you exhale, release any tension.

  • Follow the same through your calves, knees, hips, abdomen, chest, arms, shoulders, neck and head.

  • Use your breath to release any tension in your body.

  • When you finish sit for a few minutes and notice how your body feels.

  • Do it for as long as you need.


#3 Mindfulness Meditation


Mindfulness meditation encourages us to focus on what's happening right now. It brings our awareness into the present where we can let go of the past and worries about the future for a minute.


When you start practising mindfulness meditation, your mind will wander. This is normal and expected. Each time you bring your focus back to the present, you're strengthening a new mental habit. This can help you break free from worrying about the past or stressing about the future.


  • Set a timer for 5 minutes.

  • Sit somewhere comfortable and quiet

  • Close your eyes and breathe normally

  • Move your awareness to your breath. Follow each breath from the beginning of the inhale, to the end of the exhale and repeat.

  • When you notice your mind has wandered, gently bring it back to the breath and repeat. Be kind to your wandering mind, don’t judge.


#4 Mindful Movement


This is any type of movement where you're fully present in the moment and paying attention to how your body feels.


Here's an example. During running you can sync your breathing pattern with your strides so inhale for 3 strides and exhale for 4. This is suggested to help improve running capacity and keep a pace, but it's also a nice way to stay in the moment while you're running.


References:


https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/using-the-relaxation-response-to-reduce-stress-20101110780


https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article%3Fid%3D10.1371/journal.pone.0002576



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