5 Naturopathic approaches for managing stress and creating calm | Part 2
The 5 Naturopathic approaches for Managing Stress and Creating Calm
Last week, I described how the long-term impact of stress has far-reaching health consequences across the body. Today, I want to focus on the positive steps you can take in your day-to-day life to minimise this impact and dampen down the stress response and calm the body.
When we talk about stress, we have the short term response that kicks in to protect us from danger. Think about the emergency stop reaction, and you’ll know you get a surge of adrenaline and your heart will beat really fast. But when we experience continuous stress from emotional worries and trauma together with stress from a poor diet and doing too much, this creates the long-term release of cortisol, which is damaging to the body.
The stress response triggers the “fight or flight” reaction. But did you know you can help the body switch back into the “rest and digest” phase that turns off cortisol (and adrenaline) and brings the body back into a state of calm? These are the two arms of the autonomous nervous system. You will be in one or the other, so let’s focus on staying in “rest and digest” (parasympathetic) as much as we can!
These are my 5 naturopathic approaches you can build into your day-to-day life. Either use these in a proactive way or draw on one of these practices at times when you know your stress response has been triggered, and you want to bring yourself back into a calm state.
Deep Abdominal Breathing
Many people breath quite shallowly, which creates an oxygen/carbon dioxide imbalance that can enhance anxiety. To breathe deeply, focus on breathing in, allowing the lower abdomen to expand out as you draw breath high up into your thoracic cavity – right up to your clavicle bones. And as you slowly exhale, focus on your abdomen contracting, which helps to expel carbon dioxide fully from your lungs. Keep it simple to start with by breathing in and out for a count of 4 each. Some people move on to “box breathing” where you pause for a count of 4 between each in and out breath. But the simple act of slowing down your breathing, bringing your attention to the breath, helps to switch the body into a parasympathetic state.
Emotional Freedom Technique
I have been a fan of Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) also known as Tapping for many years. I completed the one-day training, which provided me with the tools to offer this as a simple practice to my clients. This uses acupressure points on energy meridian lines and by gently tapping on 8 points it sends a message to the brain that it is safe to relax and lowers cortisol. It helps to bring the body back into emotional balance. Alongside the tapping, it is common to focus on a current stressful situation and repeat simple positive affirmations, but EFT does work by just tapping alone. I also find it helpful if waking at night worrying about all the things I have to do. I just tap away without overly thinking of anything, and it helps me to relax and move back into sleep. I recommend Nick Ortnor’s website as a good starting place:
Whether it is using visualisation or meditation, this is about bringing stillness to both the body and the mind. Stop the rushing around. Stop the mind jumping from one task to the next. Just pause. Meditation (which incorporates breath work) and visualisation focus the mind on a happy, relaxing place where you feel calm. Some meditation is designed to uplift, so choose a calming meditation sequence to calm and restore when you are stressed. More and more people include meditation as part of a daily morning or evening practice. Not only does it restore balance, but it provides mental clarity and can help build strength and resilience too. When you are stressed, give yourself just ten minutes to meditate. There are plenty of apps to choose from or find a practitioner and attend classes every week.
I prefer to use the word movement to exercise as exercise conjures up strenuous activity and this may be counterintuitive. In my last blog, I described how this can trigger the stress response – the very thing we want to turn off! Movement can be a simple as using the stairs rather than the lift. Taking a ten-minute walk (or longer) before starting work, at lunchtime, after work. Getting up from your desk and moving on an hourly basis. And if you’re feeling uptight and stressed moving (walking, gardening, dancing, yoga, Thai chi) will really help rebalance the mind.
How often do you tell yourself you’ll spend more time in the garden, you’ll phone your friends, you’ll read a book, or you’ll take up piano? Or even, you’ll end the day with a relaxing bath? Any one of these activities will take your attention away from any worries or concerns you have and will help to bring calmness. Or even make you laugh! It’s easy to think you have no time. I know what it is like to be so busy at work there’s no time to do anything else. But it really is possible to build into your day short spells of time for yourself.
It’s worth reflecting on these to see which ones resonate with you the most, and start to build these practices into your daily life. Your mind and body will thank you for it.
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