“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
I’m sharing with you some of the things that I do to offset and recover from the stress that I experience in my life. I don’t always get it right, but when I do, I noticeably feel and do better.
Stress is inevitable and a necessary part of life. We also know that stress is toxic and will destroy us if we do not lovingly take care of our body so it can better adapt to stress (if you didn’t know, check out this article).
I hope they spark some inspiration for you to create your own unique ways to feel better, develop a better relationship with stress, and build resilience to live your life to the fullest. In no particular order…
16 Ways To Relax Your Nervous System
1. Play more
Play fulfills our human need for novelty and pleasure to experience joy. When you play, you stimulate the part of your brain for creativity, problem-solving, and relationships. According to Dr. Stuart Brown, play researcher, play is all around us; it is art, books, movies, music, comedy, flirting, and daydreaming. You also play when you talk to your pets, clown around with your friends, or are engaged in deep imaginary fantasy. One way to incorporate more play in your life is to ask yourself, “Is there a way I can make this task more fun?”
2. Move your body
You already know all the great benefits of exercising. But did you know that moving your body is vital for the health of your mitochondria? Mi-to-chon-dri-what? If you remember nothing from high school biology (like me, before my research), mitochondria are the “powerhouse” of your cells. Every cell in your body contains mitochondria. It is the mitochondria that determine how much energy you have available daily. Think: happy mitochondria, happy life.
Healthy mitochondria need movement. When you move, your mitochondria move (just like the Ludacris song). According to mitochondria researcher Martin Picard from Columbia University, being physically active is the best thing you can do for your mitochondria, and being inactive for long periods of time is one of the worst things for them. Your mitochondria are responsible for helping your cells adapt to stress response. So the happier they are, the more “stress-ready” you become.
So when we move, they move, and while they’re moving, they:
- Generate younger, cooler mitochondria
- Strengthen existing mitochondria
- Repair “broken” mitochondria
- Kill off “good for nothing” mitochondria so they’re not freeloading off your body
3. Master your thoughts
Master your thoughts to master your life. Your thoughts generate how you feel on an emotional level. How you feel influences how you behave. If you’re hoarding some unhelpful thoughts and limiting beliefs, it’s going to impact your life.
Get to know your thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. This takes time and practice, but the payoff is like none other. Only from the position of awareness are we able to shift our mindset. Practice mindfulness/presence/meditation/visualization to build a helpful relationship with your thoughts. Seek support from a coach, therapist, or counselor to help you process your thoughts, beliefs, and emotions that oftentimes are hidden from plain view.
Look, we all accept the fact that we need to hit the gym to keep our body strong and healthy – it’s time we treat our minds with the same respect!
4. Nourish your body
Remove toxic foods and feed yourself what your cells need to flourish. Just like there is dirty and clean fuel, there is dirty and clean food. Food can be complicated, and very individual, especially here in the US. There are whole industries that inform what we should and shouldn’t eat that anyone can Google. Be aware that there are gray zones of what’s considered “healthy” that experts debate endlessly, which frankly confuses the heck out of everyone else. So here’s what you should know at a basic level.
Harmful with zero benefits:
- Artificial sweeteners
- Fast foods (especially in the US)
- Industrial oils (think margarine, vegetable oil, shortening)
Nourishes your mind and body:
- Leafy greens and other fresh produce
- Pasture-raised/grass-fed meats
- Healthy oils (think avocado, olive, coconut, grass-fed butter, ghee)
- Go organic if you want to avoid pesticides
5. Lean on people
Your support network is your panel of “life advisors” or people who care and can help you. These are people who can guide, care, and help us when we’re burdened. They can be your family, friends, mentors, coaches, spiritual counselors, business partners, therapists, neighbors, doctors, colleagues, etc. It’s quality, not quantity, that matters for health. You want to surround yourself with people who genuinely care about you, and with whom you can share your honest thoughts and emotions. When you are stressed, reach out to lean on your support network. Let them know what you’re experiencing and allow someone to do something nice for you.
6. Be helpful
You are a social creature, and your brain rewards you for helping your community. When you help someone else, your body releases oxytocin, which boosts your mood and counteracts the effects of cortisol (the dreaded stress hormone!). In addition, when your oxytocin is boosted, so are serotonin and dopamine (creating feelings of happiness!). Data shows that your ability to experience positive thoughts, sensations, emotions, and sentiments makes you more resilient to stress.
7. Know what gives you energy
Your body is like a radio tuning into various stations. Some stations drain you and others make you perk up and dance. Finding your joy is all about picking up signals that energize and create a feeling of expansion in you. Your goal is to refine your tuning ability so you can hone in on the stations that make you come alive and skip or limit the ones that drain you. As an example, visual stimulation energizes me. So I make a conscious effort to surround myself with nature and visual aesthetics to inspire and motivate me. Everyone’s preferred stations are going to be different, so have fun exploring!
8. Get out into nature
You are a part of the earth, so there’s a part of you that naturally and intuitively craves nature. Although we each have different levels of “hippie threshold,” at a fundamental level we all appreciate fresh mountain air. The point is, nourish your senses and let your body soak up the healing properties of trees, mountains, hills, grass, moss, flowers, open water, sand, soil, snow, rain, sun, moon, and the night sky.
9. Take stock of what’s going well
When you focus on the good, you prime your mind to notice the positivity that comes your way. Our brain is built with a negative bias, which means we tend to focus on what’s wrong versus what’s going very well. When I catch myself heading into a negative spiral of self-pity, I try to shift my gear and begin to notice the things that are going well. My experience is that it is very difficult to be grateful and mad or fearful at the same time! So shine some light on the things that are going well to move into your positive spiral. Positivity begets more positivity.
10. Write it out
Writing is great for processing thoughts. When you write, you actually process a different part of your brain than when you speak. So in a way, it’s looking at your “problem” from a different perspective. My favorite writing tools to process thoughts are freewriting, journaling, and writing a letter to yourself or someone else. Try the different techniques of writing and see what you unlock and discover for yourself.
Take regular breaks. Rest. Nap. Sleep (aim for more than seven hours). Only when you’re resting can your mind and body learn, gain insight, repair, and heal.
12. Belly breathing
Notice how you’re breathing throughout the day. Are you holding your breath? Are you breathing shallowly? Is your breath rapid? Do your shoulders rise when you inhale? These are all signs that you’re not optimizing your breathing. What’s more detrimental is that you’re sending a “fight/flight/freeze” message to your brain that you are under threat. Instead, what you want to aim for is slow and deep breathing. Inhaling and exhaling through your nose. As you inhale your belly rises and deflates as you exhale. Keep your belly soft and breath smooth. Belly breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system to relax you.
13. Media Detox
Just like what you put in your mouth affects the way your body feels, what you feed your mind has the same effect. Reduce/remove toxic media stimuli when you can. If you don’t know whether something is good for you, ask yourself – what is the intention of this information? If it’s to create fear, insecurity, frustration, guilt, tension, blame, jealousy, and other emotions like this, you know you can cut it from your life. Some common media I personally cut out or access with caution, especially when I’m stressed, are: social media, news, reality TV, horror, thriller, suspense, drama, commercials. Not all media is bad; follow and look for content that ignites, inspires, motivates, develops, and advances your life and personal well-being.
14. Spend time with animals
Animals are great for many reasons, but when it comes to destressing, they are fabulous for helping you get out of your chattering mind and into your body. Why? Because they can’t speak your language, thus forcing you to tap into your right brain and communicate through visceral sounds and body language.
15. Learn something new
When you expand your knowledge of the world, you expand your perspective. Meet someone new. Discuss a new topic. Read a book. Take a class. Watch a video. Listen to an audiobook or podcast. Pick up a new hobby.
16. Connect to a greater purpose
You tend to find more meaning in your life when you are able to connect what you do to a greater purpose. Purpose could mean different things to different people – spirituality, religion, child-rearing, social movements, universal consciousness, whatever connects you to a greater power or energy source beyond yourself.
Why do these tips work? Because they focus on either lifting your mood or building your resources (physical, psychological, and social). According to the “Broaden and Build” theory in psychology, when we give ourselves a lift in mood, we are able to see the world through a wider lens and our perspectives broaden. A broader perspective allows us to notice more possibilities in our lives so that we’re better able to tap into or build up our resources, which makes us more resilient to stress.
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