Modern life is busy. So so busy. It’s busy in ways that are different to our ancestors, and it’s busy in ways that are the same. In many ways, despite modern comforts and the quality of food and housing, we are way more stressed than previous generations. We are busy-er for one. We juggle work, family, running our home, relationships and our communities. For many, a busy life can be a rich and rewarding one. For others, it can feel as though their resources are depleting faster than they can be replenished. There’s a common misconception that stress is bad. Busy-ness that is stressful means that we trigger in our body a fight/flight/freeze response. This tells our brain to release cortisol into our blood streams so that we have extra energy to defend ourselves against attack. Except, we aren’t under attack per se, just under the weight of the busy-ness that has become stressful.
Once the cortisol has been released, your body has been switched into the sympathetic nervous system. This is the system that manages fight, flight and freeze. There is no problem with using this system in our modern life. Our lives are busy and stressful and this is a natural response that we can use to help ourselves in times of perceived need. The dangers come when the sympathetic nervous system isn’t switched off so that the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest and digest, doesn’t get a chance to run repairs on your body and digest food and water to maintain your body, its organs, hormones and biological processes at optimal level.
When I teach this to groups of adults, I usually have resounding agreement in the room. The first question becomes ‘how do I make sure I move to rest and digest each day, so that I can replenish?’
Here’s my tips:
- Stretch - Using your body in gentle movements tells your nervous system you are ok. Your body loves to stretch and move. Yoga, Pilates, tai chi are all good examples of ways to shift to rest and digest.
- Nature – The Japanese have invested 4 million yen into researching the benefits of forest bathing. Spending just 10 minutes with nature automatically switches your parasympathetic nervous system on and your body starts to rest and digest/recover.
- Hobbies – Do something that nourishes you, and watch your body rest and relax. Remember what energises you, and make some time to do it.
- Kind deeds & gratitude – Doing good things for other people and remembering good things in your life, creates good feelings in yourself which can lead to resting and relaxing.
- Investing in key relationships – Being with the people you love and having quality time, talking, playing a game, making something together fills those buckets right up – which means you are in a rest and digest space
- Meditation – be still and listen/connect with your body. Focus your attention where there is the biggest sensation. Follow this around your body until it leaves, and you feel calm and still. Repeat as required.
- Journalling – write your thoughts without thinking each morning for 10 minutes, and watch the rest of your day fall into a better and calmer space
- Creating through art, cooking, gardening – creating feels good if we are intentional in the process, and happy to spend our time there.
- Music – anything around 60bpm is good for your body, as this is your resting heart rate
The other thing to remember is that when we fight with our loved ones, friends, partners, husbands, wives - this same stress response happens. The best thing to do is to take a break and calm your system down, and then practice responding constructively.
How do you make sure you spend enough time in ‘rest and digest’ – the parasympathetic nervous system?