Stress is the most prolific cause of dis-ease in our times, with 90% of Australians reporting having suffered from stress (and the other 10% probably in denial!). What's more whilst stress reduces quality of life it also has a more sinister side, ongoing untreated stress is the catalyst for a range of serious illnesses from anxiety and depression, to hypertension and chronic immune related illness.
The main causes of stress according to the report which surveyed 1,382 people aged 18 and over were said to be difficulties at work and financial stress. So presumably if we could afford to have more holidays we'd all feel much better! Talking of holidays, I'm sure you have experienced the same increased sense of peace and clarity of mind that comes from a relaxing holiday as I have. Problems that seemed insurmountable before you go away suddenly have obvious solutions. Projects you have been putting off for a while now get completed. You laugh and smile more, life is more fun. Why does this happen? Being on a relaxing holiday allows your your sympathetic nervous system (the entity that goes into overdrive when you're stressed) to quieten, and it increases output by your parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes feelings of ease and emotional balance.
So the question is: can we switch this mechanism on without needing a passport and a flight to a tropical island? Can we give ourselves and our nervous systems a regular mini-holiday. The answer is of course you can and if you read on I'll give you several tools you can start on today that will make a profound difference to the way you feel. The first of these is the breath.
If you regularly feel stressed and want to transcend an anxiety-ridden existence, I encourage you to give the following tip a try:
Every hour, or even more frequently if possible, close your eyes and breathe deeply for a full minute. Do your best to focus on nothing but your breathing. Feel your abdomen go in and out as air enters and leaves the deepest corners of your lungs. This simple exercise has a powerful effect on your nervous system. If you keep your eyes closed as you focus on deep breathing it works much better as the less stimulation your nervous system has to process the quicker you relax.
This tip is simple and free, which means that most people are likely to underestimate the effect that it can have on their health over the short and long term. If necessary, post highly visible reminders around your work and/or living spaces that will help make this breathing and relaxation exercise an unbreakable habit in your daily routine.
When you body is upright your nervous system is relatively alert, when you're horizontal your nervous system prepares itself to go into stand-by mode. So lying down increases the effectiveness of most relaxation tools, except if you want to prevent going to sleep. If you are tired, and if you're stressed its likely you are also suffering from some level of exhaustion, so its probable you will fall asleep as you begin to relax. Over time as you continue to make time for a daily period of relaxation you will find you can stay in the delightful in-between state of deep relaxation that comes before sleep. The two best times of the day for resting are lunch time or when you first get home from work. If you do fall asleep try setting an alarm for 30 minutes for a very effective power nap.
Talking of sleep, your sleep is an excellent barometer of the health of your nervous system. If you can fall to sleep easily and stay soundly asleep during the night then you already have a huge advantage in tackling stress. If on the other hand you lie awake for an hour or two, thinking about the day you've had or worrying about the next day; or if you are woken frequently during the night then the time when your body should doing its repair and revilalising is being lost.
Our bodies are designed to have regular periods of relaxation and long periods of sleep, however many of us have allowed our nervous systems to become chronically overstimulated. Like a run away train, an overstimulated nervous system is takes some slowing down. Symptoms of exhaustion, tension, anxiety, depression and anger are just a few possibilities.
At this point I would suggest taking the following actions in addition to the hourly breathing exercise described above:
- learn to meditate - to find out more about meditation classes at Live Well click here or download a free guided meditation from meditatewithwes.com
- Have a massage - see one of Live Well's fabulous massage therapists
- begin taking professionally prescribed nutritional and herbal remedies to nourish and support the nervous system therby making it much more able to switch off. See Live Well's Naturopath Shanna.
- have weekly sessions of acupuncture to retrain your body and mind in how to relax.
- Have a pampering beauty treatment with Tegan or Zara
I hope you find these tips on stress and relaxation helpful, as always I love to hear your thoughts.
Wishing you the best of health and happiness