Do you often feel tense, angry, or anxious? These are signs that your fight-or-flight mode is working overtime, and your sympathetic nervous system is activated. The sympathetic nervous system includes parts of your brain that detect and respond to threats and stress, leading to physical symptoms like increased heart rate and breathing, anxiety, and tension.
Stress is the root cause of most, if not all, disease. To your body, stress means poor diet, not enough sleep, emotional tension, working too much, toxic relationships, or physical injury. These can all lead to the stress and anxiety many grit their teeth and bear as they go through their days. Chronic stress wears down the immune system, weakens the body’s ability to destroy abnormal cells, and prevents us from being able to fully recover from day-to-day wear and tear. Nagging symptoms appear that we tend to ignore, or we pop a pill to prevent them from becoming a distraction. But these symptoms are important information from your body, and if ignored have the potential to turn into illness or disease.
Stress management is something I spend a lot of time working on with clients (and myself too). We’re all living busy, hectic lives, but prioritizing your health is so important, and it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends until you’re burned out. It is absolutely necessary to incorporate stress relief into your daily routine. Just a few minutes per day now can save you regret later in life.
So. We know we need to relax and unwind. But how? Many of my clients have no idea how to unplug or unwind in a healthy way at the end of the day. They may turn to wine or ice cream, or zone out in front of the TV. But these practices create more stress on the body. I’ve put together some easy and healthy ways you can relax mindfully and help yourself recover from stress. Choose one of the bigger practices once a month or once a week if you can. The others you can do every day depending on how much time you have.
How to Relax: Choose as many as possible from this list daily.
- BREATHE: this is huge but easy. You always have your breath. Stress causes shallow breathing. Breath work removes the fight-or-flight danger mode and activates your parasympathetic nervous system to balance the overactive sympathetic nervous system. Check yourself throughout the day and take some deep breaths (here’s how), getting gradually longer on the inhale and exhale. Alternate nostril breathing is another easy way to calm the mind. Do these breathing exercises several times daily or as needed. You can do them anywhere.
- Meditate. Since I have found a meditation practice, I feel better able to handle day-to-day stress. Plus, meditation changes and balances your brain, strengthening the pre-frontal cortex. I’ve written before about meditation, and I have an entire pinterest board dedicated to my favorite meditations. Find what works for you and do it 5 minutes twice daily– at least!
- Daydream. Let your mind wander, and dream from time to time. It has benefits.
- A bath is my favorite way to unwind after a hard day. Use essential oils and epsom salts, and turn off your mind for 15 minutes while you soak. Here’s my favorite bath ritual.
- Take a 15 minute walk once or twice during the day. I do some of my best thinking on these little walks to break up the day. BONUS: make it a walk in the woods among the trees, which emit calming oils that balance your nervous system (more on that here).
- 30 minutes of reading before bed
- A cup of tea with relaxing herbs will calm the mind and invite restful sleep. Try that instead of a nightly glass of wine, which actually interrupts sleep. This is my favorite relaxing tea before bed. This one during the day.
- If you can swing it, a 20 minute nap is a great way to relax during the day or on the weekends.
- If you have access to a sauna, it’s a great took for relaxing tense muscles and sweating out toxins.
- Practice anything that is your zen zone: cooking, gardening, yoga, playing music, riding horses. I call the “zen zone” the place you go in your mind during an activity where you’re completely focused on whatever it is you’re doing, and nothing else matters.
- Yoga and especially legs up the wall pose. If you’re feeling tense (or pre-menstrual), this is your go-to.
Bigger Practices: Shoot for 1 or 2 of these weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly.
- Massage therapy not only feels great but is soooo relaxing. Great for detox and lymphatic drainage, too.
- Acupuncture is a great way to rebalance the body, reduce stress, and allow you to zone out and relax.
- 1/2 day at the spa. Get a massage and soak in the hot springs! Or get a pedicure at the least.
- Find enjoyable time with your community, socializing. The happiest folks are those with a supportive and strong community of friends and/or family.
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Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. In addition to her coaching practice, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and kick nagging digestive issues for good. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.