In these heightened times of stress and uncertainty, I thought it might be helpful to share 3 things that you can do immediately, or any time, to help reduce stress in the body.
It’s important to notice how we hold tension, and how we interpret stress, or bring it into our bodies. Remember that two people can experience the same stressor but assign it a different gravity and therefore shift the interpretation by the body. There are two different types of stress: exogenous stress, which is stress due to our environment and the things that are happening around us, and endogenous stress, which is stress that occurs on a physiological level within the body. The interesting thing about stress is that our body is really bad at differentiating between the different types, whether it’s emotional, physical or environmental, so they all build up and have a cumulative impact on our biological systems. From the perspective of functional nutrition, we want to decrease the stressors on the body so that the body can go back to homeostasis and continue to work efficiently.
So here are 3 techniques that you may find useful in changing the neural communication from stress experience to stress embodiment:
- Jaw Awareness: a relaxed jaw sends the nervous system signals that it is okay to rest, relax, digest and stay calm. Temporal tension and clenching causes our body to be on guard and in defense mode. One of the things that you can do to change the feedback loop from a stress response is to make sure that there’s always a little bit of space between your teeth. Relaxing the tongue down can also help remove tension in the jaw. This is especially helpful for insomnia or difficulty sleeping, and during stressful or heated conversations. Taking a moment to be aware of your jaw and any tension held there will help get you back into a parasympathetic state.
- Adrenal Interoception: just knowing where your adrenals are in the body and noticing their sensations helps us to bring them some love. The adrenals are the ones releasing cortisol, the stress response hormone, into the body. Through touch, visualization and softening, there is a spaciousness that can come into our stress centers. They sit right on top of your kidneys, in the back body, so by reaching around and putting a little bit of pressure there, that touch can act as a reminder to soften the stress response in the lower back, which is a place where we tend to hold a lot of our tension. If you check in with your lower back and adrenals often and give them some love and attention, they’ll return the favor!
- Intentional Breathing: focusing on the movement of the breath heightens our ability to redirect our thoughts, gives the body a chance to calm the worried mind and enhances our neuro/immunity communication. That’s right, while calming the nervous system, our immune system actually has more bandwidth to protect our bodies. So, when you’re thinking about a breathing technique, for some people just taking a couple of deep belly breaths is enough to decrease stress in the moment. But one of my favorite breathing techniques that I use also involves some visualization. I imagine starting at the adrenals in the back body as I take a deep inhale. I imagine the inhale moving up my spine, and then cradling the back of my head. I then take an exhale down the front of my body, down through the chest and the stomach. And then I take another inhale and stop in the stomach, allowing the stomach to really expand and move forward. And then I take an exhale and imagine that exhale as the belly pulls back, sending the breath back to the adrenals. This can help you ground into a rhythm that draws you back into your body and calms your mind.
Technique is key and we want our tools to be readily available, practiced and like second nature. I hope these tools can help bring a little ease into your day.