Stress is something everyone experience on a regular basis. Stress is a necessary function of being a human. Stress turns on our sympathetic nervous system, our fight or flight mechanism, and is used to keep us alert in traffic, sense if a situation is unsafe, run faster across the finish line, or lift five more pounds, as well as every day functions like regulating how your body uses carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, reduces inflammation, regulates food pressure, and controls your sleep/wake cycle through the release of cortisol.
Sadly, it is becoming a chronic issue for many people which is leading to many detrimental health conditions. When there are excessive levels of cortisol in the body, the adrenal glands are constantly overworking which can cause adrenal fatigue. Additionally, the digestive system, metabolic function, cardiovascular system, musculoskeletal system, reproductive system, and immune systems can all be effected by chronic stress.
Mental and emotional wellbeing, relationships, personal hygiene, and every day duties can also take a huge hit when we are under chronic stress. Because stress effects so many of the body’s systems, excessive stress can leave us feeling tired, anxious, and susceptible to illnesses.
The Workings of Stress
Stress occurs when we are presented with a situation where our amygdala in the brain senses a harmful situation. The amygdala tells the hypothalamus something is wrong, and the hypothalamus lets the pituitary glad know there’s a problem so it sends a message to the adrenal glands that we are unsafe and to send out a boat load of cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline). When the cortisol is released our body redistributes where energy is needed and what systems need to slow down and which need to speed up. It restricts our blood flow and the hear beats faster and gives more resources to the brain and muscles to get out of a dangerous situation. It shuts down production of wastes, inhibits inflammation, reduces immune response, and slows down digestive capacity (good reason not eat when you are stressed).
These physiological effects on the body are meant to keep us safe and help us move through life unharmed, or as close to it. Back in the cave dwelling days, it was possible to spend time recuperating from the threat to close the cortisol production down. In modern times, we are often moving from one stressful situation to the next.
Things Are Different Now
We don’t have sabertooth tigers to contend with anymore. That’s not to say we don’t have dangers to face and need to protect ourselves in harmful situations. What it does mean, is that we have to consciously make the effort to switch our sympathetic nervous system off so our physiology can recover. Because we wake up late, leave 10 minutes late for work, go from one meeting to the next, drive the kids to practice, stay up working about tomorrow, etc, it is difficult for our physiology to find those spaces to relax.
If we think of the sympathetic nervous system as the gas pedal in a car and the parasympathetic nervous system as the brakes, we know that there needs to be a balance between the use of them. When going up a steep hill, you may have to floor the gas. When going down a steep hill, you may have to pump the brakes. Stress is the gas pedal and rest is the brake. When we’re in traffic, we have to gas and then brake, etc. We have to know when we need the gas pedal and when we need to brake. Once we have had a stressful experience, if the amygdala thinks we are still in danger, it will re-trigger the process over and over, literally flooring the gas pedal with no braking. If our gas pedal is constantly down, eventually we will run out of gas.
Ayurveda Tips for Stress
Here are some helpful tips to help reduce stress and turn on the brakes more often:
- Take Time to Slow Down
The current day to day for most is always rushing from one thing to the next. Take the time to leave five minutes earlier on your way somewhere so you don’t feel rushed, walk more slowly to enjoy every step, etc.
- Make Self-Care a Priority
Self-care is more than bubble baths, although, it can include them, it’s about taking time to do the things that make you feel like you. This includes making personal hygiene a priority and possibly a daily ritual with things like tongue scraping, nets pot, dry brushing, brush your teeth, bathe, etc.
- Create a Routine
Routine is beneficial for our mind by creating a sense of stability and security. This security allows our nervous system to relax more often when it isn’t needed in a high stress situation.
- Define Your Priorities
Knowing what is most important to us can help reduce stress around accomplishing everything. It may help to make a list of the things you need to do each day, week, or month, and put them in order of importance.
Meditation takes many forms like walking meditation, repeating a mantra, prayer, formal seated practice, choose the one that is best suited for you.
Breathing techniques are a wonderful stress management tool. You have access to them anywhere and in any situation. If you build a regular daily practice, the pranayama practices will be even more potent when you need them in a stressful situation.
Any traditional exercise is beneficial, but what is more important than what you do, it’s being consistent with it. It has been shown 30 minutes of vigorous exercise three times per week or 30 minutes of moderate exercise 6 times per week, helps boost levels of dopamine and endorphins to reduce stress and improve metabolism.
- Movement Meditation
Take on a regimen of Thai Chi, Qi Gong, Yoga, or other similar movement practice. Although these modalities can also fall in the exercise category, they offer the mind and body connection traditional exercise does not.
- Healing Touch
Touch is one of the most potent ways to create calm. Give or receive a hug from someone you love, get a massage, visit your chiropractor, check in with your Reiki healer, visit your acupuncturist.
Be conscious of the way foods effect you, Do they cause gas, bloating, make you feel sleepy, etc? When we know what we’re eating creates sufficient energy and digests well so we don’t suffer from GI distress, our body and mind can relax.
- Take Care of Your Senses
There is a constant borage of information coming at all of our senses constantly through our phone, people around us, our environment, etc. It is important to give our senses pleasant things to digest such as pleasant music, delightful food, a skin care regimen like abhyanga, aromatherapy, or taking in a beautiful landscape.
A rasayana is a special herbal blend meant to help boost vigor and vitality. Always consult the proper practitioner before consuming any herbal medicines.
Make sleep one of your priorities. Most adults need between 6 and 10 hours of sleep. Determine what you minimum number hours of sleep are that leaves you feeling refreshed, and make sure to go to bed in time to get that number. Do your best to go to bed and wake at the same times each day.
- Train Your Brain
Begin to react to stress in a different manner to help turn off the vicious cycle. Depending on the situation, humor, open-mindedness, compassion, etc, can keep the cortisol levels at bay or reduce their impact.