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Although the word stress is often used in a negative light, it is necessary for growth, health and balance within our bodies and minds. The normal response to stress is the production of hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. When these are released, the human body becomes faster, stronger, and has more acute vision and hearing to best master the challenge, defeat the threat, or flee effectively. This effect is meant to be only temporary, and those hormone levels should normalise quickly and not stay elevated for long periods of time.
Without the stress of opposing gravity things would deteriorate and breakdown for example astronauts rapidly lose their muscle mass and bone density as they experience weightless and the absence of gravity. The same thing happens to those who are hospitalized or are on bed rest for any reason.
The benefits of stress can be seen in our everyday life. It is evident in the surges in productivity, strength and focus rendered by stress that helps us complete tasks, grow, heal and cope. A great example of the power of stress is the focus and productivity we experience under the stress of a deadline. Likewise working out muscles with resistance exercise helps prevent osteoporosis by putting “healthy” stress on our bones and helping our muscles grow and become more able to cope with physically demanding activities. But there is also a fine line between healthy stress and chronic stress. If we were to be continuously under these stressors, it is likely we would move into a harmful state of chronic stress that can lead to mental breakdown, injury and depletion.
As you can see from the above examples, lack of stress is not necessarily a good thing, but too much of it can be the problem. If we learn to balance our exposure to stress with an adequate relaxation response we will be able to face challenges in our life and recover quickly from stressors we are exposed to. Our bodies can then get back to doing all the maintenance and repair work required for a thriving, healthy body.
When we are stressed and anxious our negative thoughts and feeling can take over and weigh us down. This is why it is important to have a plan or a list of things that you know work for you in encouraging and eliciting a better relaxation response in the body. This plan or list will consist of things that help our bodies switch from the state of a stress response to a normal and relaxed state of being. There are many ways to do this, here’s a few ideas to get you inspired:
Breathing exercises: Deep breathing is an easy stress reliever that has numerous benefits for the body, including relaxing muscles and quieting the mind. Breathing exercises are especially helpful because you can do them anywhere, and they work quickly so you can de-stress in a flash.
Listening to music & maybe having a little dance: According to a recent study published in the British journal “Heart”, slow or meditative music is a proven stress buster, so set your dial to a soothing station during your commute.
Taking time to be touched: If you can't indulge in regular full-body massages, treat yourself to the occasional pedicure, manicure or facial, any nurturing, hands-on treats that offer some of the benefits of massage.
Finding beautiful words, daily positive inspiration and humour for an instant lift: Inspiration, affirmation and humour can be a very useful tool in promoting a sense of wellbeing, helping overcome anxiety and worry, and for acceptance and peace. There are many websites, blogs and apps that deliver daily humour and affirmations to help lift your mind, mood and the corners of your mouth.
Trying progressive relaxation: All the way from fingers to toes— tense and then release each muscle group in the body (lower arm, upper arm, chest, back and abdominals, etc). Once the body is relaxed, the mind will be soon to follow.
Appreciating pets and animal pictures: there is a reason why there are so many websites and blogs dedicated to cute pictures and videos of animals and babies- they make us laugh and brighten our day! Our furry friends do the same as they wag their tails past us or curl themselves around us.
Kick your shoes off: walking shoeless on the grass will help rebalance your negative to positive ion ratios and ground and renew your body’s energy.
Do an art project: Keep it simple and achievable, focus on enjoying the colours and the movements more than what you are creating. Make it about the process not the end product.
Planned time out: this is by far one of the most important aspects of cultivating a healthy stress response. Have a day or half day where nothing is expected of you and a time where you can do whatever your body is telling you it needs. On this day or half a day do no chores, no work, plan no meetings, don’t make any big plans, just take it easy enjoy your own company or downtime with friends and family. Our body craves this time, and it is wise to make it a weekly ritual.
Remember to choose activities that you enjoy, that match who you are and fit into your schedule. Try to engage in a stress reducing activity every day, preferably a couple times a day and start to feel the balance that it brings to your body and life.