Stress: The health epidemic of the 21st century
Stress control tips
When you’re trying to change your healthy habits, what’s one of the first words that you use to describe yourself?
We often hear something along these lines during our first session with a new client.
A certain amount of stress is good for us, without it we would have no sense of urgency and nothing would get done. Everything else, the poison is in the dose.
In the workplace culture being “busy”, “swamped”, “rushed” with being productive and successful and we’re all sensitive to environmental cues. But this illusion can lead us down a path of too much stress which impairs our health, well-being, body composition, learning, mental clarity, relationships, communication, and pretty much all other domains of life and wellness.
Too much stress constraints your smart decision making, and prevents you from thinking clearly and proactively; from making smart decisions; and generally from thinking critically.
So what can you do about it?
How to manage stress and relax
Your stress response can generally be broken down to into to parts:
- sympathetic nervous system (SNS) over-activation (fight or flight)
- parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) over-activation (faint, freeze)
When we are too stressed we are spending too much time stimulating the sympathetic nervous system. This is the system that is stimulated every time you have another coffee.
But if it’s stimulated too much we miss out on the benefits of the parasympathetic nervous system which helps improve your health, well-being, body composition, learning, mental clarity, relationships, communication, and pretty much all other domains of life and wellness.
Here are a couple of quick and easy options to help prevent the stress mechanism from going into overdrive.
- Calm the SNS with belly breathing.
- Use the guided relaxation app “Calm”
- Release the stressful energy.
Option 1: Calm the SNS with deep, effective “belly breathing”
This is a good habit we use with our Physiotherapy patients to help reduce tension in the neck, shoulders and lower back by helping them to relax and reduce their anxiety.
Deep breathing — with a slow and steady exhale — quiets the SNS and activates the PNS.
The exhalation part is critical. If you just start inhaling and huffing, it’ll make things worse.
To learn effective belly breathing, lean against a wall or lie down on the floor.
- Place your hands on your belly below your ribs.
- Inhale fully and to feel your belly move out, out and out for a count of five.
- Inhale all the way, until you feel you have an enlarged belly full of air.
- Next, exhale and feel your lower ribs move down, down and down towards your hands for a count of five.
Most people find this difficult at first, but with practice, you’ll start to get it.
Option 2: Use the guided relaxation app “Calm”
Sometimes, it’s nice to switch off and be guided through some relaxation. Calm is our favourite app which tailors the experience to the following goals:
- Reduce anxiety
- Improve focus
- Increase happiness
- Develop gratitude
- Better sleep
- Learn to meditate
- Build self-esteem
- Reduce stress
Option 3: Release the energy
Sometimes, calming down isn’t the best option right away.
In the wild, when animals are attacked or threatened, they’ll go into an automatic stress response pattern. If they survive the stressful encounter, they’ll shake and tremble for a few minutes, then spontaneously recover as if nothing happened. Their nervous system is able to discharge the energy through movement and muscular contraction.
Although we don’t live in the wild, our body has evolved with the same stress response. If we don’t use our physical stress we can stay stuck in a state of mental arousal which limits your performance and health goals.
Any activity can help release this energy, but the most common is to get outside and go for a walk, even just for 5 minutes.
This is a good habit to assign to any clients who tend to get immobilized by stress. However, it also works great for anxiety, as it releases the SNS-activated energy.
You can follow this step up with belly breathing once the physical activity has calmed the situation a bit.
Physical exercise has been proven to relieve stress, anger and anxiety. At Health by Science, we offer a plethora of techniques. Book a stress control class in our Edinburgh clinic.
We offer one to one personal training, private gyms with showers, nutrition plans, movement assessments and one-off training design.
Next up, check out our upcoming obstacle course race for people with physical or mental impairments.