Conscious Relaxation: Beyond Wine and Netflix
As a wellness professional, I am aware of how much information circulates about maintaining the health of our cardiovascular, muscular, and digestive systems. We are bombarded every day with articles and ads about the right kind of exercise to do, and what we should and shouldn’t eat for an optimal gut microbiome, for example. It seems to me there is very little attention paid to the health of our nervous system, and yet the nervous system plays a critical role in nearly every aspect of our health and wellbeing.
In times of acute stress, the body’s sympathetic nervous system becomes activated, and the body prepares for fight or flight. Heart rate quickens, the body becomes tense and ready for action, digestion shuts down and we begin breathing faster. This innate stress response is responsible for our very survival as a species and was extremely helpful when humans were being chased by saber-toothed tigers. If you see someone you love in danger of getting hit by a car, you want your adrenaline to kick in and your vision to narrow so that you can focus on the one thing you need to do to help them.
So, the fight or flight response is a normal and helpful response to real danger. The problem arises when this response becomes habitually activated in the face of threats or danger – real or perceived. The body doesn’t really know the difference. So, if you are lying in bed at night imagining the very worst case scenarios and replaying your biggest fears, your body will do what it thinks it needs to do – your heart rate may quicken, your blood pressure may rise, and your digestion may shut down. Your body may also release stress hormones. If this response is activated for a prolonged period of time, it can lead to serious health consequences. Many chronic health conditions; headaches, digestive problems, muscle aches and pains, insomnia, and frequent colds and infections are the physical symptoms of chronic stress.
In times of high stress, most of us turn to our comforts – food, wine, and Netflix to name a few. I’ve indulged in my fair share of these comforts during the pandemic, but if I overindulge in any of them, I end up feeling worse.
There are other ways to relax that can help to maintain the health of your body, boost immunity, elevate mood, and help maintain good quality sleep. Conscious relaxation refers to utilizing a technique or specific activity with the intention of activating the body’s relaxation response. The relaxation response is essentially the biological opposite of the fight or flight response. It is also referred to as the “rest and digest” response because it activates the parasympathetic limb of the nervous system, which is responsible for healing, repairing and regenerating our body at a cellular level. We all have the ability to induce this natural physiological state. And when doing so, our heart rate and blood pressure lower, our digestive functioning improves, and our immune system is strengthened. Triggering the relaxation response usually requires using some sort of technique – a breathing exercise, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation, for example. It really only takes 10-20 minutes to trigger these beneficial biological changes.
I have created a free 10-minute guided relaxation. Please click HERE to access it. I hope you find it helpful for relieving stress, releasing muscular tension, elevating your mood and improving the quality of your sleep. Let me know!