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How can we reduce stress?

The physiology of stress and relaxation

So, why do we want to build in daily rest time?  Well, to understand this, we have to understand something about our brain.  Basically one way to categorize our brain function is to break it down into the following two categories:

Sympathetic activity – which is often called “fight or flight” activity

Parasympathetic activity – which is often called “rest and digest” activity.

As you can imagine, most of us tend to be much too “sympathetic.” It might be our jobs, our homes, our bills, our relationships, traffic, or any other stressor that throws us into a “fight or flight” state.  But whatever it is,  chronic sympathetic activity leads to high levels of circulating cortisol and adrenaline, both produced by our adrenal glands (located adjacent to our kidneys).

When stress is chronically high and the adrenal glands continue to pump our cortisol and adrenaline, our “non-critical” functions are inhibited – things like digestion, liver metabolism and detoxification, cellular repair, immune function, and reproduction.

In essence, through several physiological interactions, we end up with:

1)    Poor blood sugar management and insulin resistance

2)    Depression, sleep disruption, and carbohydrate craving

3)    Decreased thyroid conversion and a reduced metabolism

4)    Altered sex hormone activity

5)    Amino acid loss from skeletal muscle

The net result of all of these is hormonal havoc, reproductive dysfunction, muscle loss, and fat gain.  Not something we’re after. But what many don’t understand is that it doesn’t stop there.  With all this cortisol and adrenaline pumping out, eventually the adrenal glands begin to slow production of cortisol and adrenaline.  Until chronic fatigue sets in.  Not a happy prognosis.

Promoting rest and recovery

So, what can we do to prevent this cascade of negative, stress-related outcomes?  Well, the key here is balance.  We’re never going to reduce all of our stress.  The job, the relationships, etc.  Hopefully they’re all sticking around.  And, truth be told, a certain amount of stress is really good for us.  So instead of focusing on the sympathetic side of the equation, we need to focus on the parasympathetic side.  In other words we need to engage in more activities that help us create our own parasympathetic state.

So, what types of activities help us achieve a restful state of relaxation and recovery?  Well, there are all sorts of activities that can help with this.

Yoga Popularized in the last few years, certain types of yoga are very parasympathetic.

Meditation This type of activity is also a huge help with rest and recovery.

Spa Treatments Spa treatments often help achieve that deep parasympathetic state.

Jacuzzi/Sauna This can also help in the war on stress.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  You don’t have to visit a Tibetan monk, drop thousands of dollars, or even leave your house to achieve deep relaxation.  The following activities can also work well and can be done at home:

Reading Reading in a quiet spot 30 minutes before bed

Zoning Out Drinking warm a comfort drink, in a relaxing setting.

Music and Wine Drinking a glass of red wine and listening to music before bed.

Bath and Candles Lighting candles and having an Epsom salts bath

Choose the activities that can help you get 30 minutes of quiet, restful, worry-free parasympathetic activity each day.  That’s the absolute best way to get control of stress.

Hope the above helps.

Coach HB

This Information was taken from an amazing article from precision nutrition.

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