Stress is something that we all deal with, it has become a ‘normal’ part of our daily lives. Stress is regulated by the autonomic nervous system, and this system has maintwo branches.
- Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) – fight or flight
- Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) – rest and digest
From an evolutionary perspective this system works really well. Under relaxed conditions the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system is predominantly in control, allowing us to digest, rest, heal and recover. Ideally, we should be spending alot of time in this space!
Our sympathetic nervous system on the other hand, will become dominant in the event of a sudden problem, e.g. a lion attacking us. Our SNS will shut down all processes of digestion/recovery, we will have a huge spike in cortisol and adrenalin in preparation. Our vascular system will also adapt and shunt all the circulating blood to where it is needed most.
This allows us to either fight the lion, or run away. This is an excellent and sophisticated response, but is really only designed to be utilised in short and infrequent bursts.
Here is where we run in to a major problem. This system had not yet adapted to the modern world... We now run in to stress all the time. Whether that is;
- Managing family life
- Work piling up on your desk
- Caring for elderly parents
- Financial concerns…. The list goes on
When we do hit stressful events as above, the same sympathetic nervous system response will occur. This is not advantagoeus at all, as many of these stress responses simply don't require the same physiological changes. By triggering this response we are shutting down our digestive system, we are increasing our cortisol and adrenalin response and a whole host of other consequences.
This prolonged and repetitive stress can lead to a host of problems
- Hormonal imbalance (decreased oestrogen, testosterone, progesterone)
- Weight gain
- Increased systemic inflammation
- Digestive issues
- Immune disease
For our health and longevity, it is critical that we reduce our sympathetic nervous system dominance and spend as much time in a calm state (parasympathetic state).
Potential benefits of stress management include and are not limited to;
- Weight control
- Improvements in pain, particularly chronic pain
- Improved resilience
- Better concentration
- Lower cholesterol levels
- Better ability to sleep
- Better focus/concentration
- Improved longevity
Tips to manage stress:
- Schedule in some “me-time” everyday
- Put it in your diary/work calendar
- Make it something specific to you
- Have some “screen free time” each week
- Turn your phone off once you get home
- Try to have a Sunday off your phone - start monthly and aim to progress to weekly
- Practice your version of meditation
- 3-4-5 breathing or any breathing exercises that work well for you
- listen to your favourite music in a relaxing space
- Prioritise family time
- Have dinner around the table
- If living by yourself, make an effort to call a loved one regularly
If this post has peaked your interest, I would highly recommend listening to this podcast.