July 29, 2023 4 min read
In medical terms stress is defined as, the body's response to physical, mental, or emotional pressure. Most of us can relate to this, unless you’re lucky enough to be living in a complete state of bliss! Stress has become a main player in our overall state of health, with many of us feeling the health impacts of stress, and continuing to leave this unchecked.
It’s important to pause here and consider why we continue to turn away from the very real presence of stress on our personal wellbeing. Stress can, at times, feel like an imposing and never ending cycle, instead of a part of life that can be managed and balanced - firstly through awareness and then via the development of a toolkit which supports you.
Some of us are familiar with the stages of the acute stress response. The alarm stage stimulates the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) to respond (think adrenalin) to increase our heart rate, and muscle activation, pinpoint our focus and prepare us for action. Although we usually equate this with a perceived threat, we can also experience acute stress through positive experiences such as a new job, first date or an exciting adventure activity.
As we continue to engage with a wide variety and intensity of external and internal stressors, the impacts of chronic stress may begin to take shape in our physiology. Initially, the activated branch of the SNS becomes the dominant force. This may be experienced as the shadow of threat or need to stay alert, mobilised and hyperaware. The slightest reminder of something activating our attention will bring with it a cascade of heightened responses, as well as a change in the release or cortisone, glucose and hormone production.
When the sense of threat increases beyond our personal threshold, our nervous systems have cleverly devised another adaptive branch to support our survival which is designed to slow our responses down including our heart rate, breath and digestion. This is considered a shut down or immobilised state of being. Most of us have experienced both the accelerated and collapsed states of the stress journey at certain points in our lives. You may be more familiar with the symptoms listed below.
• The heart - changes in blood pressure and elevated heart rate, increased risk of heart disease and strokes.
• Diabetic changes due to changes in insulin and cortisol
• Increase in muscle and connective tissue tension, headaches, teeth and jaw problems, chronic muscle pain and inflammation often categorised as Fibromyalgia
• Digestive changes ranging from bloating, pain and poor digestion to inflammatory symptoms such as IBS.
• Emotional changes such as overwhelm, sadness, anger, irritability and emotional numbness and despair
• Mental challenges such as anxiety and panic, inability to concentrate or organise thoughts, sensitivity to external stimulus (threat responses)
• Poor immune response including low grade infections, constant colds, poor wound healing and even autoimmune diseases
• Changes to the way we relate - combative, detached and/or shut down. Turning towards our personal stress experience with a sense of purpose and empowerment
✓ Engage in restorative practices to reset the nervous system. There is strong evidence to support body-centred approaches to help regulate our nervous systems. 3 common examples are Yoga, Mindfulness, Meditation and Breath-work. Restorative practices helps us to decelerate from chronic stress by focusing on the present space by getting in touch with body, breath, heart and mind.
✓ Understand the mechanics of stress and how you experience it. Gaining awareness and sensitivity to your own level of stress allows you the opportunity to “get to know it” better. This can create the opportunity to take proactive steps towards your “stressed” self.
✓ Releasing an “all or nothing” approach takes us away from a fix or failure space and towards a curious and open minded approach where we can explore modalities, practices and sometimes subtle changes that are sustainable and enjoyable.
✓ Acceptance - What is in my control and what is outside of my control. Certain parts of life can at times feel chaotic and intense however, the more you create a restorative practice, the more space you create to ride the highs and lows that are an inevitable part of living. Decelerate and simplify responses. Notice things that can help you in short term. Set reasonable and caring goals which also meet your life experience for the medium and longer term outcomes.
✓ Unplug to unwind. Our increasing dependency on digital devices resulting in an ever-increasing daily screen time has subsequently also been the cause of several adverse effects on physical and mental or psychological health. Constant exposure to devices like smartphones, PCs and TV can severely affect mental health increasing stress and anxiety. Notice what happens when you log into social media sites, watch news updates and engage in debates online. Find restorative ways to engage in content to support positivity, openness, connectedness and at ease.
✓ Interrupting the cycle. A mini break from the merry-go-round of stress can look like a facial, or maybe a half day walking a quiet trail in nature. Sometimes we really need a retreat from our current environment in order to reset. The beauty of interrupting the cycle can provide a valuable opportunity to address what is happening with fresh eyes and an open heart. A neutral, welcoming and supportive space can be exactly what you need to befriend your stress triggers and nurture self-care.
Rest and Restore Wellness Retreats have a multidisciplinary and evidence based approach at the heart of each retreat. View their retreats at the link below.
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