Mind-body practices strengthen our parasympathetic nervous system, which tells us to relax after a threat is past. And when this system operates effectively, we complete the stress cycle. We relax.
But what happens when chronic or severe stress prevents that “rest and digest” system from kicking in?
Over time, it can harm our health.
Research indicates that our thought patterns and emotions affect nearly every illness we can get, from the common cold to cancer. Your mind, brain, and body all communicate with each other. And it’s possible to help them communicate in healthy ways.
The parasympathetic nervous system, one half of the autonomic nervous system, balances out the other half – the sympathetic nervous system. It’s the sympathetic nervous system that initiates the fight-flight-freeze response to stress. And it’s often overactive and overworked.
So by helping our parasympathetic nervous system kick in, we can complete the stress cycle. We can relax, rest. And digest.
How might we aid this process?
Changing How We Relate to Our Stress
First, we need breaks and relief from our stressors.
It’s important to identify those primary stressors. Then to drop any that we can. Modify those we can’t. And figure out how to accept the rest.
So what are your primary stressors? If you were to make a list, what would be on it?
Sometimes, it’s current events. How much do current events stress you out? If it’s a lot, when might you unplug from the news cycle and social media strategically? What break might that give your mind and body to remove yourself even briefly from news of events beyond your control?
Often, we also face personal and professional stressors. A challenging relative or colleague. An important deadline. Or an unexpected situation. What in your personal or professional life stresses you?
As you consider that, what would taking a break, even a brief one, from that stressor look like? Who can assist you? What else can help?
And while we may not be able to change some of our stressors, we can change how we relate to them. That can help us move through our stress response and complete the cycle.
Mind-Body Practices Worth Trying
Stressors can be physical, psychological, or social. Physical stressors include medical procedures or conditions, or environmental factors such as noise or pollution. Psychological stress can come from deeply held beliefs about yourself and others. (Politics, anyone?) And problems with loved ones, neighbors, or co-workers can equate to social stress.
No matter its source, stress can make unhealthy behaviors worse. When you’re stressed do you eat more poorly, drink more, and exercise less? If so, you’re not alone.
But with increased awareness comes change.
Mind-body practices have proven health benefits. Whether it’s progressive muscle relaxation, conscious breathing, or journaling, these exercises help stimulate the vagus nerve, part of the parasympathetic nervous system. Other vagal toning exercises – including sound therapy, grounding, breathwork, doodling, EFT tapping, guided meditation, yoga, and journaling also can flex and strengthen your parasympathetic nervous system.
So what different options might you want to explore?
You don’t have to do them all, but it can be useful to try several to see which one resonates most with you.
And once you’ve picked something to practice, the best results come from using the focused technique consistently.
In addition, continue to focus on daily stress-relief strategies such as prioritizing sleep and exercising.
What are some changes you might want to make? Share in the comments below, or contact Amy with your thoughts on how you’ll support your parasympathetic nervous system so it can do its job better.
As a national board-certified health and wellness coach, Amy Hoogervorst offers grace and space for a healthier you. If you need help reducing stress and fitting healthier habits into your life for more energy, focus, and fun, schedule a free discovery call to explore how health coaching might benefit you.