Foundation stress management tools
Part of the work I do as a nutritional therapist is to talk to people about their stress response and how this can effect our ability to rest and digest.
So, to explain, digestion is very much under the influence of the nervous system. The nervous system is a complex network but in simple terms it is broken down as follows:
How the autonomic nervous system responds to stress:
1. In response to stress the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) allows for the production of the neurotransmitter adrenaline and the hormone cortisol. Cortisol and adrenaline are responsible for getting your body into action to respond to the stressor. In primal times this response prepared you to hunt for prey or flee from danger. Heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate rises, to supply more oxygen in and around your body; stored sugar is released from the liver and muscles to provide energy and digestion and reproductive systems are slowed right down to preserve vital energy.
2. As the stressor dissipates the body has to switch off all of the above processes, so the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) kicks in which dampens down the effects of the sympathetic responses. The body is now in a state where it can effectively digest, reproduce and rest.
Modern day stressors are much different to what our ancestors experienced and today we are at risk of chronic activation of the SNS which can lead to symptoms such as increased anxiety, poor sleep, abdominal weight gain, poor digestion and problems conceiving. Life in the western world provides the perfect storm to become very SNS dominant, so we need to make sure we make time during our days to allow the PNS to kick in.
I have put together 5 tools which I give to my clients to help support their stress responses:
1. Relax while you eat your main meals
Digestion is not as effective when you’re in a sympathetic dominant state. To enhance digestion and absorption you need to take time while eating. Chew your food well and I mean really well!! Get away from your desk, turn off your gadgets and really focus on your food. Eating this way allows for your saliva, stomach acid, digestive enzymes and bile acids to really work on breaking down your food properly, so you can get as much nutrition out of your food as possible.
2. Take a breath
More and more studies link deep breathing to relaxing and calming the mind. A great ‘first aid’ stress reliever to add to your stress management toolkit is to focus on deep breathing. When you feel hyperactive or anxious try this following technique:
“For 1 minute take a deep breath in for 5 seconds and slowly breathe out for 5 minutes. Repeat for 1 minute”
You can also use this breathing technique before your meals to help prepare you for digestion.
3. Get out in fresh air
Get outside by yourself every day even if it is just for 5 minutes. Do not plug into technology; instead notice the environment around you, notice the smells, the colours, the wildlife, the people. Expose your skin when possible to fresh air and sunshine.
4. Do something new
We can often get stuck in old and repeating habits. Interrupting patterns of behaviour with something new to focus on can be really helpful for mental wellbeing and stress management
Things to try:
New relaxing exercise classes, yoga, dancing, Pilates, tai chi
A short course on something that you really enjoy
Volunteering for a charity or community events
5. Detox your social media
Go through the list of people you follow, whoever inspires you then keep, whoever makes you feel bad about yourself - DELETE
Choose days or times during the week where you totally come off of your social media accounts
Limit the time you allow yourself to check your social media accounts
Turn off your notifications
Charge your phone downstairs or away from your bedroom – if you use you phone as an alarm clock – invest in an old fashioned one.
"Don’t allow your social media accounts to become the first thing you check in the morning and the last thing you check before you go to sleep."