2020 came in like a wrecking ball and has left our fight or flight mode permanently turned on. Continue reading to find out exactly what part of the nervous system controls our stress and ways to combat the high levels of stress hormones.
Our bodies are the most amazing "computer" on the planet. One of the best parts about it is that they are defaulted to heal themselves. If we get a cut, our body goes into repair mode and soon we have a scab. If someone turns off the light at night time, our pupils automatically enlarge to help us see. See what I mean about amazing?
There are different parts to the nervous system but the part I want to focus on is the Autonomic system. This part of the system controls and regulates bodily functions unconsciously. So just like the example of our eyes and healing cuts it is also in charge of things like heart rate, respiratory rate, urination and so on. It is also in charge of the fight or flight response. Way back in the day, this response would be turned on to save us from a sabertooth tiger and once we were safe the response would turn off and back to picking berries we'd go. Fast forward to 2020 and the sabertooth tiger is in front of us all day and night long. So our nervous system never gets to rest and heal. A main part of healing is done when we are sleeping but the number of people walking around without proper sleep hygiene is HUGE! Then we wake up and have our first cup of coffee for the day which is a stimulant and puts our fight or flight mode on high gear. But we also feel we need it to wake up from the unsuccessful night's sleep.
The autonomic nervous system has two main branches, the sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic side is basically considered the fight or flight while the parasympathetic side is where we rest, digest, and heal. A great way to remember the two branches is by comparing them to the yin and yang symbol. One is the "doing" side and one is the "rest" side. I think most of us are in the "doing" side way too much which is causing imbalances all over the place. I could get scientific on you and explain exactly what is happening inside the body during fight or flight but it can get confusing and it's not really necessary. What IS necessary is for all of us to make a much bigger conscious effort to be in the parasympathetic (the rest) side. I have listed some ways to tap into that side below:
Lose track of time. Think back to when you were a kid, what were some activities you did that made time nonexistent? Chances are whatever that activity was was part of your true passion.
Deep breathing. Sounds so simple because it is an involuntary action of our body, however, deep breathing is a state of conscious action. REALLY fill those lungs slowly and release it slowly over and over. Different practices like yoga, chi kung or tai chi are amazing for deep breathing. Now all of these practices are readily available with the internet so we truly don't have an excuse any longer.
Find a local spa to support. There is nothing better than a full body massage or any other treatment at a spa to help us slip into a tranquil place. Do not get caught up thinking a spa treat is selfish either. When you are well rested and calm your whole family will thank you.
Meditation. This should be a daily practice and it's FREE. Find a talking meditation online to walk you through a guided meditation until you feel confident enough to move on to other meditations. It's that easy!
Spend time in nature. Another free and extremely rewarding daily practice. This one gets tricky for me in the winter but I AM going to make a better effort to be in nature from now on. Go ahead and make that vow with me:)
Spend time with kids and animals. I've always been a kid person (hence my day time gig as a preschool teacher) and now I'm an animal person as well. Spending time with some kiddos and animals will put a smile on your face in just a few short minutes being around them.
Gently touch your lips with two fingers. By doing this it activates your parasympathetic nervous system because of the tiny fibers throughout them. I also love to do scalp massages as well.
Now you know the two main branches of the autonomic nervous system, which puts you in much better shape (mentally) than you were before reading this, and you have some great examples of how to get in touch with your parasympathetic side. I recommend doing at LEAST one of these examples everyday. If you want to be an overachiever do more than one a day. The point is, if we are constantly in fight or flight we are not living a balanced life. It is causing all sorts of imbalances like crappy sleep, weight gain, mood swings, depression, anxiety, terrible PMS and the list goes on and on. Take action today NOT tomorrow! Nothing is a guarantee in this world so don't leave your happiness in the balance of tomorrow, start to feel better now!