Good morning, friend! Welcome to another week!
Today, we continue exploring ways to cope with stress.
Last week I talked about looking up and letting go of all the fear and worry that entraps you and simply allow God to take your stress.
Did you have an opportunity to look up last week? Heaven knows, this ‘skill’ requires perseverance! The key is continuing to look for opportunities to look up and letting go. As you do, I’m cheering you on!
This week, we are shifting our focus to talk about moving our body as a way to cope with stress.
Anytime ‘movement’ is stated, our natural tendency is to think of activities that require exercise such as running, swimming, biking, or strength training. These types of exercises increase our heart rate and ‘stresses’ our body in way that is vitally important to our wellbeing.
While exercise plays a key role into our long-term health, it may not be the answer when reducing stress. Let me unpack that a bit more for you.
This past week someone said to me, “We are in a stress crisis!” I couldn’t agree more! If you think about our days, there are multitude of situations that can stress us out.
- Getting a call from your child’s school and hearing your child is sick just before you head into an important meeting at work.
- Driving through rush-hour traffic.
- Hustling from one activity to another.
- Unable to find your car keys causing you to be a late for an appointment.
Notice how all these scenarios depict a very subtle stress level? In the academia world, these little stressors are referred to as ‘daily hassles.’ As we live out our days, it is the daily hassles that impact our health the most.
Each one of the scenarios described above activates the sympathetic nervous system. If you remember back to our physiology lesson a few weeks back, activation of this system is responsible for the ‘fight or flight’ response in our body.
The adrenal glands, which are responsible for controlling our bodies response to stress, releases hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine in response to the stress. In turn our body responds by increasing our blood sugar, heart rate, and blood pressure, (to name just a few), as it prepares you to either ‘fight or flee’ from harm.
While short-term activation of the sympathetic nervous system does not pose a health concern, chronic elevations of this system does.
That’s why it is so important that you strive to activate the parasympathetic nervous system every day. This system is responsible for bringing your body back to ‘rest and recovery.’
Walking is an activity that is exceptionally effective in mobilizing ‘recovery’ in our body.
Think back to the last time you went on a long walk. How did you feel?
If I had to venture a guess, you likely felt less stressed, you had less muscular tension, especially in your neck and shoulders, you had a better outlook on the day and life, and you felt more awake in your day.
Sound familiar? It should! In essence, you were benefiting from the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. Reaping the benefits of walking is critical to both our short-and long-term health and wellbeing.
But, here is the deal. Not all movement is created equal when it comes to stress reduction. Take, for example, jogging. While jogging is considered a movement and can be very relaxing and stress-relieving for those who are conditioned, it can also be very taxing for those unconditioned and/or those undergoing a lot of stress.
When you participate in exercise that is overly taxing, your body responds by producing adrenaline. This adrenaline directly contributes to the stress your body is already experiencing. See the catch 20/20?
So, what do you do? I highly recommend spending 20-30 minutes (or longer) taking one long walk a day, (preferably outside and in nature) to elicit the parasympathetic nervous system. In addition to this longer walk, take several 5 minute brisk walks every two hours to support your bodies need for movement while also countering the negative effects of stress.
Taking these walks requires intention and living a disciplined life. If this is not already part of your daily routine, it will take time and dedication to making this habit. Start slow and celebrate each and every achievement in the right direction! I’m a big believer in keeping a ‘win journal’ to highlight your successes, while also keeping you looking forward to your intentions.
Remember, taking time to make you a healthier person is always important. It just might be one of the most important ‘meetings’ you had that day!
Yours in Health and Wellness,
P.S. If you struggle to find balance in your life and find yourself living in the sympathetic nervous system more than you would like, get in touch with me! Let’s chat (the first meeting is always free) and discover if working together is what you need to move forward. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.