You’re busy to the point of burnout, yet you still feel guilty about not adopting a healthier lifestyle. Stressing about whether you’re doing enough for your health is counterproductive, because stress itself undermines your wellbeing. It’s time you considered how taking the pressure off may be just what you need for both your body and mind.
Impact of Stress on Health
Almost every part of your body can be hurt by ongoing stress. A state of chronic stress can affect everything from your blood pressure to your pain tolerance. High stress levels can increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, depression and addiction.
One key player in switching off your body's stress response is your vagus nerve, a cranial nerve that keeps your brain updated on the status of all your major organs. This nerve bundle helps your body know when to go into low-stress mode, and many of the same activities that are good for your heart and other organs can also support good vagal response.
Sweating and Stretching Away Stress
You may already have a go-to cardio activity to help you burn off bad feelings. If you’re currently an exercise avoider, maybe the promise of stress relief will tempt you to get moving. From the endorphins that cause the “runner’s high” to the reduction of inflammatory stress hormones, the good stimulation of exercise counteracts the negative stimulation of anxiety and stress.
Slow, deliberate workouts like traditional yoga, tai chi or qigong are another route to work off your tension and boost your health. These exercise options rely less on getting your heart pumping and more on building your strength, flexibility and concentration. As different as they may be from a fast-paced cardio routine, yoga and similar practices can offer similar health benefits and stress reduction.
Having Fun Is Good for You
Your good health is a serious matter, but that doesn’t mean that everything you do to maintain it has to be solemn. After all, the combination of relaxation with recreation is a classic pairing, and recreation is just a big word for play.
The old cliché about laughter being the best medicine may be physically as well as psychologically true. It appears that when you laugh, your brain, nervous system and organs all get a boost, easing you into a more relaxed state that may even be immunity-boosting. Maybe your urge to watch corny old rom-coms whenever you have the flu is really a dose of self-care instead of self-pity!
Another healthy stress-busting activity similarly relies on your voice: singing. Remember that big bundle of nerves we talked about earlier, the vagus? It runs right by your vocal cords, and some people believe this is why singing and chanting can be so relaxing. Singing also can change your breathing patterns in ways that are interpreted as a “chill out” signal by your nervous system. Take this as your official permission to occasionally skip the gym and invite your pals to a night of karaoke instead!
Minding Your Body
The most powerful tools of deep relaxation use the mind-body connection to strengthen and rejuvenate your health. Deep breathing is a well-known way to encourage your body to relax, perhaps because shallow breathing is a sign of stress. One of the best things about adding breathwork to your routine is that breathing exercises can be done almost anytime, anywhere. Rhythmic breathing for just a few minutes can stimulate your abdominal organs, slow your heart rate and calm you mind.
Meditation is a natural next step if you want to take your tranquility further. You may find it enriching to incorporate spirituality into your meditation, but you can also simply use meditation to calm your mind and de-stress. This ancient practice has caught up to the modern age, and you’ll now find plenty of meditation apps to keep your mindfulness practice as close as your phone.
You may feel it’s impossible to find time for relaxation, but it’s precisely when you feel rushed that you need to slow down. Take a break, stretch, laugh, sing or just breathe. By finding some serenity, you may find yourself happier and healthier.
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