Unless you live on a yacht stress is inevitable. This may or may not be a completely unconfirmed fact we’ve made up (though we’re happy to do the research.) The truer facts are: stress is a symptom of modern life, and thanks to never-ending-notifications and all the recent unprecedented times that continue to plague us, stress can feel horribly permanent and unending.
It’s no secret that stress affects our body as much as our mindset, and that those effects don’t skip over our skin either. But to understand how to combat stress, it’s important to know what’s going on first before you can get a grip on soothing and self-care, says Jessie Whittaker, founder of Bondi-based wellness practice The Calmm.
How does stress affect the body?
“When talking about stress, let’s look at our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems,” Jessie explains. “The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for our ‘flight or fight’ response. When we find ourselves in a stressful situation, our body is flooded with energy, cortisol, speeding up our heart rate, increasing our blood pressure, increasing our breathing capacity, getting us ready to take action.”
Our worst fears are confirmed when Jessie acknowledges that yes, that response does chew up a big chunk of our energy and means we’re left with little left in the tank to “digest, repair and restore”.
She continues: “The parasympathetic nervous system is quite the opposite, relieving the effects of stress, slowing our system down and allowing us to find equilibrium. Digestion improves and healing begins to take place.”
So how can we stress less and get our parasympathetic nervous system going?
“Stress can be triggered by a number of things such as work, emotional experiences, financial burdens, lack of control, change and times of uncertainty,” says Jessie. “When we are unable to recognise and manage our stress we can find ourselves in a constant state of worry, may suffer from insomnia, experience an impaired immune system, move through oscillating emotions and the list goes on.”
Consider how layers of ‘everyday’ anxieties can feel even heavier when pandemic-related stress settles on top and how our nervous systems might take a hit as a result.
“It is imperative to our health that we bring our attention to our bodies and how we are feeling. A calm and balanced nervous system means a stronger immune system, slower movements, increased ability to cope and that overall feeling of stillness within ourselves,” Jessie adds.
With that in mind, here are seven ways Jessie recommends soothing your mind and body from home:
Check in with yourself
“The fist step to managing stress is recognition. It is only by checking in with ourselves that this is possible. Ask yourself: How am I feeling? Overwhelmed, sad, depressed, anxious, skittish, unmotivated, slow, fearful.
What is my body telling me? Shaking, pale, skin irritations, inflammation, brain fog, immobility, pain, dizziness, chest pain, digestive problems, exhaustion.”
“Add five drops of your favourite essential oil [or favourite Exceptionoil] and magnesium bath salts to assist in down-regulating your sympathetic nervous system.”
“Practice deep breathing, inhaling through your nose for five seconds, holding in for five seconds, exhaling for five seconds and holding out for five seconds. Repeat this box breath for three to five minutes and feel your body move into your parasympathetic system.”
“Ideally, 20 minutes twice daily, in the morning and afternoon but if this is too much, start with five-10 minutes a day either using an app or sitting with your eyes closed. If your mind wanders, acknowledge your thoughts and let them go, before bringing your focus back to your breath.”
Practice Yin Yoga
“30-60 minutes works wonders on the nervous system and on your body, slowing you down while allowing fascial tension to melt away.”
Soothe yourself with music
Play music that fills the room with a calming frequency (see The Calmm’s aptly named ‘Calmm Down Town’ playlist.)