Take Care: Four Ways to Tap into the Body’s Natural Relaxation Response
Often, we may get asked the question “so how do you take care of yourself on a daily basis?” The answer to the question frequently met with a blank stare, glossy eyes or, confusion.
Living in a society with so much pressure “to do” and accomplish daily it can be challenging to try to keep up with these demands let alone add another task on the list toward accomplishment. This can begin to activate our sympathetic nervous system, the system of flight, fight, or freeze activities. It can begin to feel challenging to take a deep breath, our heart beats faster in our chest, and the body induces a state of stress. The body may start to perceive that it is in a dangerous situation and begins preparing to resolve it in whatever way deemed necessary. We can become “stuck” in this response which in turn can lead to a state of chronic stress, fatigue, and other.
The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) opposes this. The PNS is responsible for inducing relaxation in the body following heightened periods of danger or stress. This “rest and digest” system reminds the body that it is safe.
When the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems work together, they complement one another to return the body to a state of homeostasis (balance). The following tools and techniques may be utilized to tap into the PSN and begin resorting balance:
- Diaphragmatic Breathing: This breathwork technique shifts the breath from expanding in the upper chest to a breath that creates expansion in the abdomen. It can be completed for as little as 3-5 minutes at a time to begin reducing blood pressure, heart rate, and increase feelings of calm and overall wellbeing. To begin, find a comfortable seated position or, lye down on your back. Place one hand on your chest and one hand just below the ribcage. With your hand just below the ribcage, you will begin to feel the raising and lowering of the diaphragm with each breath. Breath in slowly through your nose (for about 3 seconds) focusing on an expansion of the abdomen to gently raise your lower palm. Try to keep your palm on your chest as level as possible. Purse your lips like you are sipping through a straw and begin to exhale. The abdomen will begin to lower and contract, again, keeping the palm on your chest as level as possible. Exhale for approximately 3-5 seconds. Repeat.
- Maintaining Hydration: Studies have shown that being even minimally dehydrated can cause an increase in heart rate and in the production of cortisol (stress inducing hormone). Drink, drink that water!
- Prioritizing sleep: Sleep assists in down- regulating the sympathetic nervous system as well as assisting increasing resistance in our immune system. Focusing on maintaining a consistent sleep-wake cycle can improve the QUALITY of our sleep as well!
- Vagus Nerve Stimulation: The vagus nerve runs from the brain to the abdomen. This nerve assists the parasympathetic nervous system to re-enforce the body’s natural state of “calm.” We can begin to stimulate this on our own through utilizing grounding and mindfulness techniques such as the breath exercise listed above as well as through humming, sinning, chanting, or laughing out loud!