I went to see Janet after suffering chronic headaches for years and relying on the OTC headache/pain relievers. I really wanted to try something to help the pain so I no longer needed to take medication.
Shannon S., San Francisco, CA
RELAXATION IS PLEASURESeptember 2, 2013 Blog
Throughout the Stress Series, we talked about how chronic stress contributes to a variety of health issues such as insomnia, headache, pain, to obesity and heart disease.
As we know from the scientific literature, when we are faced with stress, a cascade of physiological events (known as the “fight” or “flight” response) occur triggered by the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system: blood pressure and heart rate rises, respiration is increased, blood flow to the organs such as digestive and reproductive organs are decreased, and the breakdown of sugars into the bloodstream for fuel is also increased.
On the other hand, we also know, but is often ignored by the scientific literature, that not only do we have the capacity and ability to deal with stress in order to survive, but we are also set up to enjoy life, relax, connect with others, and heal. This is known as the parasympathetic state or the “relaxation” response. It is the complementary opposite of “fight or flight.” Our blood pressure and heart rate goes down, respiration slows down, and blood flow is increased to the organs and skin as well as our stress hormones decrease.
This final part of the series will focus on scientifically proven ways to induce the parasympathetic state or “relaxation” response. Creating a stress management practice that fits for your individual needs will help to prevent inflammation and body degeneration.
Chronic Stress is Not Normal
Our bodies are built to have a balance between stress and relaxation, pressure and calm, sympathetic and parasympathetic stimulation. It is essential to life. The two are inherently complementary in order to meet the demands and challenges of life as well as time to replenish, restore, and to heal oneself.
Today, the sympathetic stimulation is in overdrive. It is a continuous reaction to meet the excessive demands placed on us by modern life. Stress isn’t temporary as it was during the Paleolithic times, where one was engaging in a hunt or avoiding danger. The problem is when chronic stress impacts us the same way as acute stress does. The mind knows the form of stress we experience, but the body reacts in survival mode to avoid or fight off danger. Chronic stress heavily impacts our bodies in various ways that harm the body in the long run leading to degenerative conditions.
The Prime Relaxation Response: Pleasure
As mentioned earlier, in order to abort the stress response and trigger our natural self-healing mechanisms, we must practice pleasure.
Pleasure is defined in the following ways:
“a happy satisfaction or enjoyment”;
“the instinctual seeking of pleasure and avoiding of pain in order to satisfy biological and psychological needs”.
Please note that pleasure is not distraction. Practicing pleasure is the act of being fully present, calm, grounded, self-aware, and more alive. It is the practice of connecting with our own beings as well as with our natural environment and the world around us. Distraction is merely the opposite. It is a way of disassociating or disconnecting away from ourselves and our lives.
Creating a Stress Management Practice: 11 Ways to Practice Pleasure
As mentioned earlier in the series, stress management is essential to obtaining optimal health and longevity. Identify and list the various ways that you know help you relax. Choose the one(s) that provides the most relaxation and incorporate it into your daily routine (i.e. take a walk in a park before or after work daily for 1 week then 2 weeks). Try to focus at least one significant way to practice pleasure and do it consistently for 2 weeks and work your way up from there. Note how you feel after doing the activity or practice.
Additionally, here are 11 + 1 proven ways to promote health and well-being (not in order of importance). Some of these will be discussed in more detail in future articles:
Listen to, Create &/or Dance to Music. Studies have shown the positive effect music has on health. Specifically, it has shown to boost immunity, clarity and focus of the mind, facilitates memory and learning, improves mental health and brain function as well as enhances creativity.
Touch (human contact, massage, sex, hugging). Human contact from a loved one or someone you trust can increase the amount of hemoglobin in the blood (oxygenates the blood), reduce stress and depression, encourage healthy sleep patterns, boost immunity, reduce high blood pressure, helps produce serotonin and dopamine – the hormones that uplift mood and make you happy, improves circulation and reduce pain.
Laugh! Laughter boosts immunity, decreases stress (such as stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine), improves blood pressure and vascular blood flow, clears the respiratory system, similarly to exercise which helps unclog airways and enhances inhalation and oxygen intake, regulates blood sugar levels, reduces and manages pain, facilitates connection and communication with others, and energizes the organs.
Own or Interact with a Pet. Pets are natural mood enhancers. They can decrease blood pressure, increase opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities, boost immunity, provide social support, improve cardiovascular health, and reduce stress levels such as cortisol as well as increase well-being through the production of serotonin.
Spend Time In Nature/Outdoors. Studies have shown that spending time in nature increases vitality that exists beyond the energizing effects of physical activity and social interaction – which are important for physical and mental health. Increased vitality not only increases energy but also increases resiliency towards physical illness.
Learn to Meditate. Meditation has many benefits including stress reduction, improved attention and memory, increased creativity and feelings of compassion. In addition, studies have shown positive changes to the brain with meditation, such as decreased sensitivity to pain, increased positive emotion, and reduced cognitive decline.
Try the Power of Positive Thinking. Studies have shown the link between person’s attitudes towards health. Some benefits include lower rates of depression, increased life span, lower levels of stress, increased immunity, better coping skills during difficult times or hardships, and improved mental health and well-being to name a few. Encouraging positive thinking and optimism can lead to better health outcomes.
Get Some Sleep. Sleep plays a vital role and well-being throughout life. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental, physical, and overall quality of life. Sleep helps to improve brain function, improves learning, focused attention, creativity, the ability to make decisions, and productivity. It also helps keep a healthy balance of hormones, regulate blood sugar levels, prevent the risk of obesity and diabetes, boosts immunity, and supports healthy growth and development.
Move Your Body. As many of us know, regular exercise can greatly benefit our health outcomes. Moving your body – whether cardiovascular exercise such as swimming or jogging, playing a sport, walking, hiking, yoga, Taiji, and martial arts can help boost immunity, increases blood flow, lowers blood pressure, reduces inflammation, enhances cognitive activity, and reduces stress and improves mental health and well-being.
Get Acupuncture. Increasingly, specifically to stress, studies have shown acupuncture to reduce stress hormone levels, reduce pain and inflammation, boosts immunity, increases blood flow and circulation, lowers blood pressure, helps to detoxify the body and reduces stress and improves mental health.
Restore a Balanced Diet. As this will be discussed in more detail in future newsletters, eating a good balance of protein, good fats and carbs (2:1 ratio of vegetables to fruits) can help increase and sustain energy levels while maintain blood sugar levels. This will also help support a healthy balance of hormones necessary to manage stress. Avoid conventional refined processed food as the majority of these foods are genetically modified.
Listen to Your Body and Trust Your Intuition. This is essential to balancing health and making choices or decisions regarding your own health care. If your body cringes or suddenly feels tense and tight, this is your body’s signal to either avoid this potential stressor or acknowledge and communicate what and how you are feeling at that moment. You can also ask yourself what you need at this particular moment to promote relaxation. This will stop triggering the stress response.
Although many of us are aware of the benefits of the above (suggestions/tips), but how many of us do we actually attribute the same importance to listening to music or taking time to walk in the park as we do to taking a pill?
It is clear that our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions have the potential to be a powerful medicine. Try these tips to help you create a stress management practice and prevent adrenal burnout and body degeneration.
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