Since stress is an activation of our “fight or flight” or sympathetic activity, it is important to balance that with our “rest and digest” or parasympathetic activity. I’ve heard many people say they exercise for stress relief. While consistent exercise is a critical component to overall health and improving your body’s capability of coping with stress, it is yet another activiation of your sympathetic system. In fact, competitive athletes consider recovery a valuable part of their training. They understand the need for rest and relaxation to allow their body to recover from the stress it is put under during exercise and intense training.
So while we are unlikely to find a way to live in our world and eliminate all the sources of stress in our life, we can learn to increase our parasympathetic activity to balance that. Here is the key: take 30 minutes a day to engage in some activity that allows your mind to go into a state of relaxation. Choose activities that help you get quiet, restful and worry-free parasympathetic activiation. Every person’s activity might be different. One person could achieve that state by taking a bath each evening to relax but another might take a bath and allow their mind to spin with worries the whole time- that doesn’t count! The key is to do what allows your mind and body to relax for 30 minutes each and every day.
Here’s a list of activities that might work for you:
Yoga or Pilates
Reading in a quiet spot
Listening to soothing music
Taking a bath
When you do this and have actually relaxed, you may notice tension in your neck, shoulder and back release. You might experience a decrease in your heart rate and blood pressure and a sense of calmness. If you do your activity before bed, you will probably be able to fall asleep faster and achieve a better night’s sleep.
Does it sound too simple? It’s obviously not that easy to do because how many of us get 30 minutes a day of a truly relaxed state of mind. But remember all those effects of stress on your body and health- it’s important to allow your body to recover! This is the best way to get control of stress- start today, make it a habit!
Brooke Uptagrafft, MD
Dr. Brooke is a family medicine doctor.