We all understand that being healthy is not just about the food on our plate or the absence of disease. At PAAR we look at your wellbeing and longevity (or ageing) in a multi-dimensional way. Our core belief is that our bodies have an innate ability to heal and regenerate, and our aim is to address the root of any issues directly, prior to them becoming chronic. Therefore, it is essential to consider the body as a whole, interconnected system.
Your health and wellbeing rests on a number of supporting pillars. In addition to healthy nutrition, relaxation is one of these key pillars. Relaxation is fundamental in supporting both your mental and physical health, and therefore your longevity.
In the past decade, a large number of studies have shown that chronic stress and poor mental health can be detrimental to physical health, therefore effective stress management, rest and relaxation is an integral element of our wellbeing, vitality and longevity. Creating a new path for your body as well as your mind can be a significant step forward.
What happens in the body under stress?
The feeling of psychological strain and pressure is what we know as stress. Having some level of stress present in our day to day lives is normal, as most of us juggle work with family commitments and social activities. While some of the stress we experience comes from external circumstances, the vast majority of our stress is actually generated within. When we worry about situations that are not necessarily posing a direct threat to our life (e.g. an argument we had or planning for an important event at work) our brain still sends out threat signals to the rest of the body. The threat may or may not manifest, nevertheless we can find ourselves overwhelmed by negative emotions, fear and anxiety, simply due to our own perceptions.
The stress response begins in the brain that perceives a situation dangerous (this could be actual danger or thoughts of danger) and communicates with the rest of the body through the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system controls involuntary body functions, such as breathing, heart rate, blood pressure and digestion, and plays a key role in regulating our physiological response to stress. It is divided into the sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight”), and the parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest”). The sympathetic nervous system prepares our body to react to stress: our heart rate, respiration rate and blood pressure increases, directing greater blood flow to our muscles, preparing the body to deal with the emergency at hand. Once the ‘crisis’ is over the body tends to return to its normal state. The parasympathetic nervous system aids in the recover from stress and keeps the basic functions of the body, such as digestion, reproduction and repair work running as they should.
Why is relaxation essential for health and longevity?
When we experience stress, the body shifts its energy resources towards fighting off the threat or fleeing from danger. Increased heart rate, blood sugar and blood pressure help provide energy quickly for the essential organs, the brain, heart, and lungs. In addition, stress hormones also divert energy away from non-emergency processes.
Under normal circumstances we may be stressed for a few minutes, hours or a couple days. But when the relaxation response is not activated, the stress hormones continue to supress important, but non-emergency bodily functions, such as digestion, reproduction and the maintenance of our immune system. Therefore feeling stressed on the long run can lead to a host of health problems. Studies have shown that prolonged stress, and with that the continuous suppression of the immune system, can leave us vulnerable to inflammation and infection, and can cause a long-term drain on the body. Those that work and live under chronic stress therefore have a higher likelihood of developing disorders like cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke and cancer.
Fortunately, there are plenty of simple yet powerful tools, which are available to us to manage stress, activate a resting state and maintain an appropriate balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. This is where adequate rest and relaxation comes into play.
What is relaxation and how can we make it part of our everyday lives?
Relaxation happens when the body and mind are free from tension. It is an emotional state void of arousal caused by strong emotions, such as anger, anxiety, or fear. As we saw above, relaxation has a positive impact on both our mental and physical health.
When we talk about relaxing and winding down, we often think of having a few drinks with friends or watching a movie, but these activities will not necessarily activate the body’s rest and digest response. Managing stress essentially boils down to lifestyle and attitude. Even the most routine life style choices will have a profound impact on your stress levels and therefore your health and longevity.
Getting right the three fundamentals: healthy nutrition, regular exercise and sufficient sleep will put down the foundations for resilience.
Getting right the three fundamentals: healthy nutrition, regular exercise and sufficient sleep will put down the foundations for resilience. In addition, there are a number of habits and attitudes that you can implement into your everyday life to relieve stress and keep your nervous system in balance:
1. Meditation and conscious breathing:
As little as ten to fifteen minutes of meditation and conscious breathing a day can activate the soothing effects of your parasympathetic nervous system. In your PAAR plan we include simple meditation techniques and breathing exercises that you can start practicing during your mental & emotional health consultation. Implementing the techniques you learnt into your daily schedule will aid in regulating your internal and external response to stress.
2. Practicing mindfulness:
Practicing mindfulness based meditations will put down the foundations for resilience. Building on that, and implementing the attitudes of mindfulness into your day to day life can be a game changer when it comes to regulating the nervous system. Living mindfully reconnects us with the present moment in a profound way. When you shift from operating on ‘autopilot’ and become more mindful of your habitual patterns, behaviours and responses, it gives you the space to act consciously instead of being in reaction. As a result you will feel less overwhelmed, will be able to focus better, set priorities effectively and achieve your goals with more ease.
3. Limiting your screen time and your social & news media consumption:
Through our devices, like our smart phone, smart watch, computer and television, we are exposed to an unlimited amount of mostly unfiltered information. Regulating stress response can become a challenge, if you have a habit of reading anxiety-inducing news several times a day. Try to cap your news intake and also cut down on scrolling aimlessly on social media.
4. Losing the critic and cultivating (self-)compassion:
Comparing or judging ourselves and others can bring unnecessary mental suffering to everyone involved. It is important to understand the difference between healthy thriving that can support you in achieving your goals versus striving that activates the body’s threat systems. While some of our stress is caused by external circumstances, we quite often pile on top of that internally generated stress due our perception and attitude to a given situation. When you find yourself overly dramatizing certain events, for example thinking that making one mistake at work will ruin your career, it is a good idea to pause and switch your inner monologue to a more supportive one. Catch self-defeating, negative thoughts before they can take hold. This will not only keep stress levels at bay, but will also help you to stay motivated.
5. Getting creative and doing something that brings you joy every day:
Making time to do something that you love every day is a great way to activate the brain’s soothing system. Maybe it is listening to music, dancing, playing with your kids or reading a book. Do you have some extra energy? Do something creative! You can cultivate creativity in many different ways: by painting, cooking, making music, redecorating your house, rebuilding engines… whatever brings you joy. We are by nature creative, but it often gets lost along the way. Unused creative energies stagnate and can turn into frustration, judgement and other unhelpful emotions. Getting in touch with your creative side, on the other hand, can be immensely healing and uplifting.
6. Spending some time in nature:
Spending some time in natural environments is proven to have a calming effect on the mind. Nature doesn´t only soothe you emotionally, but consequently it also can reduce your blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension, easing anxiety and managing stress effectively. If you found yourself stuck in your home and don’t have a garden, consider getting some house plants. They will oxygenate your living spaces, and caring for them can naturally boost your mood.
Implementing the above habits into your day to day life can help to reduce the pressure of stress and activate your body’s relaxation response. Making fundamental changes to your lifestyle usually requires time and effort, therefore the best is to remain patient and do it one step at a time.
Are you ready to start your journey towards long lasting health and vitality? Follow this link to book your complimentary assessment with us.