Rest, Digest and Repair – How to stop stress affecting our health

Self-care: it‘s such an important discipline that we like to think we manage to achieve but really, we are nowhere close to it. In my lifetime I think I’ve hardly met a handful of people who I’ve looked at and thought “they really do have their own health under control”. That’s not many people! And guess what distinguishes these very few people from the rest of us? It’s lack of STRESS, or better … it’s their ability to manage stress.

 

So how does stress affect our health? Our bodies have two different systems that work in harmony to control our bodily functions: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

The sympathetic nervous system helps us react quickly when we’re in a stressful situation, while the parasympathetic nervous system helps us relax and recover.

 

The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS): The Guardian of Fight, Flight, Survive.

Imagine yourself in a dangerous situation where your body instinctively prepares to confront of flee from a threat. It makes our heart beat faster allowing the blood to be pumped to the muscles, makes us breathe faster to deliver more oxygen to our muscles, we release adrenaline to heighten alertness and sharpen our senses.

 

The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS): The Oasis of Rest, Digest, Repair.

Contrary to the sympathetic N.S., the parasympathetic N.S. will take charge when you are in a state of rest, relaxation, and digestion. It helps your body conserve energy, repair tissues and maintain optimal bodily functions. It will slow your heart rate and breathing, will allow your body to digest and relax. It promotes a sense of calm, allowing our bodies to recover, heal and replenish its resources. This system is like an oasis in the midst of life’s stresses, providing the much-needed balance and rejuvenation.

 

What are we doing wrong?

The sympathetic N.S. is a necessity for when serious physical threats arise. A long long time ago, when human kind had to hunt for food, climb mountains to escape from wintery weather conditions, run away from dangerous animals, they needed this system to take control in order to survive. The problem nowadays is that we live in a society that requires us to be constantly on the go: running around to do errands on our days off, following time schedules at work, worrying about pandemics, bringing the kids to school and then rushing to the office, making money to feed the family ecc. We are living in a constant Fight, Flight, Survive mode even when no life threatening conditions are near us. Do we allow our bodies to enter the Rest, Digest, Repair zone long enough for these two systems to work in harmony together? I can tell you that the answer is NO. Hence problems start arising, because we are not allowing our body to spend enough time to heal from these stressors met throughout each and every single day.

 

If we want our bodies to heal we need to enter the parasympathetic nervous system, here are a few ways how.

 

  1. Take deep breaths: when we take a deep breath it encourages the PNS to activate. Take slow deep breaths and let your belly expand when you breath in and contract when you breath out. This helps you relax and reduce stress
  2. Practice mindfulness: take a few minutes each day to focus on your breath, observe your thoughts without judgement and stay in the present moment.
  3. Engage in relaxing activities: doing activities that help you relax, like gentle yoga, stretching, or taking a warm bath can activate the PNS. Make sure you prioritise time for self-care and activities that bring you joy and relaxation.
  4. Get good quality sleep: quality sleep is essential for healing and for the PNS to function properly. Create a routine for bedtime, make sure your sleep environment is comfortable and try relaxation techniques before bed to promote good sleep.
  5. Spend time in nature: spending time in nature has a calming effect on the nervous system. Go for walks in natural settings, breathe in fresh air, and enjoy the beauty around you.
  6. Get checked by your chiropractor: chiropractors are trained to detect interferences within the nervous system. Sometimes these interferences may be preventing you from using the PNS. Getting adjusted allows the nervous system to function at its best.

 

To sum it up: STOP STRESSING! And remember, sitting down and allowing your body to rest in not equal to entering the Rest, Digest, Recover state, if your head is going a million hours an hour. It’s your mind that needs a rest!

 

References

 

  • Bagheri A., Rafieiean N., Jafari D., Ahmadi M., 2015. Chiropractic Care and the Nervous System: A Bried Overview. Journal of Chiropractic edicine, 14(4), 237-244.
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  • Goyal M., Singh S., Sibina E.M., Gould N.F., Rowland-Seymour A., Sharma R., Haythornthwaite J.A., 2014. Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being: a Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Internal Medicine, 174(3), 357-368.
  • Grander M.A., Jackson N., Gerstner J.R., Knutson K.L., 2014. Sleep Symptoms Associated with Intake of Specific Dietary Nutrients. Journal of Sleep Research, 23(1), 22-34.
  • Jereth R., Edry J.W., Barnes V.A., Jerath V., 2006. Physiology of Long Pranayamic Breathing: Neural Respiratory Elements May Provide a Mechanism that Explains how Slow Deep Breathing Shofts the Autonomic Nervous System. Medical Hypotheses, 67(3), 566-571.