In a Yoga Journal article I read not too long ago, the author outlined ideas on stress and the body, including how it affects our energy levels. Here is background information on your body on nonstop stress and what you can do about it.
Most experts agree that the adrenals play a pivotal role in maintaining everyday energy levels. Cortisol is your main stress hormone. In healthy individuals, cortisol runs on a 24-hour rhythm, normally peaking around 5 am and slowly tapering throughout the day so it’s lowest at bedtime. When you’re well-rested and your stress is in check, you can get through the morning and fall asleep easily at night.
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Shorter, more intense cortisol bursts–along with your other stress hormone, adrenaline–occur when the brain senses imminent danger. When that happens, a lightning-fast chemical cascade occurs along something called the hypothalamus. This hypothalamus (the part of the brain that communicates with the nervous system shoots a signal to the pituitary gland, triggering a fight-or-flight response in an effort to spur the body into action.
The galvanizing force comes from the adrenals, which pump out adrenaline so you can react–fast. As that initial hormone surge diminishes, the hypothalamus kicks off a second chain reaction, this time directing the adrenals to release cortisol to keep you vigilant. Once the anger has passed, the adrenals send a message back to the hypothalamus to calm down, and you return to the opposite of the fight-or flight-state–commonly referred to as “rest-and-digest” – which is the body’s preferred, restorative state.
However, we live in a world of saturated stress. And thanks to stress, relationships, caregiving, overexercising, and all the should’s we are bombarded with continue the saturation. Studies have shown that many Americans lie awake at night due to stress. Our brains are on perpetual high alert, and with all of these stressors being interpreted as dangers and triggering the continued release of cortisol.
As one of my former yoga teachers once said, “There is no tiger.” We act as if there is a living, breathing tiger about to pounce on us at every turn. Stress is serious and affects our well-being.
What can you do about all of this?
As so many of us just simply need to slow down and relax, there are tools that you can readily use.
Meditation, mindfulness, yoga and sound healing, all can assist us in dialing back the stress. Let’s look at some ways these can assist you.
Meditation not only helps reduce stress by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure, it can also help you focus, learn and remember. Meditation can evoke the relaxation response, a physiological sea change that slows heartbeat and breathing by focusing you on a word, phrase, prayer, or repetitive physical activity, like walking or yoga. Landmark research done by the renowned mind-body pioneer Herbert Benson, a cardiologist and president of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, has shown that regularly evoking the relaxation response lowers high blood pressure and eases many stress-related ailments.
Research has shown that mindfulness helps us reduce anxiety and depression. Mindfulness teaches us how to respond to stress with awareness of what is happening in the present moment, rather than simply acting instinctively, unaware of what emotions or motives may be driving that decision. See my self-study course “Mindfulness for Stress Relief.” Now 50% off for $38.50.
Many studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of yoga in reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. In one study, women who participated in a three-month yoga program experienced significant improvements in perceived stress, anxiety, and depression. In another study, ten weeks of yoga helped reduce stress and anxiety for participants.
Yoga eases symptoms of anxiety and stress through direct benefits to both the body and mind. On a physical level, yoga helps induce a relaxation response and reduce heart rate; on a psychological level, mindfulness promotes a focus on the present moment, guiding thoughts away from anxiety or worry about future events.
My favorite yoga practice is Restorative Yoga. The purpose of restorative Yoga is designed to provide support and help the body to relax during asana practice. This is often referred to as active relaxation. The poses also move the spinal column in all directions which goes along with the ancient principle of physical Yoga – the belief that a healthy spine promotes well-being. See classes held in Madison and also video in On-Demand Library.
For years, people have used soothing sounds to assist in meditation, relaxation or even sleep. Sound therapy, a healing practice used in many ancient cultures, takes these healing sounds a step further, using vibrations to possibly heal physical aches and pains, reduce stress or other mental and emotional issues. It also is believed to relieve blockage of the chakras, or the energy points in the body. Sound and vibration brings you into a more centered space. Sound Healing can release pain and tension by vibrating the cells “back into balance.”
How Peaceful Wellness Can Help You Reduce Stress
If you would like to dial back your stress and anxiety, learn to relax, and experience more peace in your life, I am trained in a variety of modalities including mindfulness, meditation, sound healing, and yoga.
- Meditation, Mindfulness, Sound Healing, Restorative Yoga, Guided Rest, and other classes in-person in Madison or on Zoom
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Originally posted 4/10/19