Statistics show that around 70% of GP visits can be drilled down to stress. This figure on its own emphasizes the importance of down time and relaxation. Whilst we know ultimately this is the right thing to do, not many of us actually prioritise ‘me time’ every day. Many people don’t recognise that they need the downtime and think they are managing well enough without it. They may feel social pressure to work harder, achieve more, socialise more, exercise more… more, more and more. We live in a world where ‘more’ is expected all the time and the world is reluctant to hear ‘no’. Have we created this situation ourselves?
Many of the long-term chronic illnesses in the world today are negatively affected by stress and some might say stress have been a major contributing factor in the development and progression of the illness. Some examples are type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, auto immune conditions, mental health, insomnia and infertility.
So, how does relaxation support the body? Our body has an Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) which supports the organs of the body by telling them how hard or slow to work. The ANS is divided into the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS). Whilst these are ultimately connected and work together, they deliver differing messages to the body. The SNS prepares the body for flight or flight, increasing heart rate, oxygen levels, glucose availability whilst slowing down any function which isn’t immediately required such digestion or reproduction. The PSNS performs the opposite function, this is the rest and digest side. Here heart rate, breathing, immediate energy release are slowed and digestion is able to function effectively. The rest and digest function allows the body to be calm and slow down, giving you the well earned rest you deserve.
There is no magic prescription for relaxation, the truth is it is whatever enables you to feel calm and grounded. There is increasing evidence that time spent outdoors in green space is hugely beneficial and some believe more should be done to promote this highly within social health policies. I have to say, I am at my happiest walking or running in the countryside.
The options for relaxation are endless, I try to explain a good relaxation activity as something that demands all your attention and takes you away from everyday life but doesn’t place you under undue stress. There are activities that didn’t get as much coverage years ago like, meditation, yoga, mindfulness, gratitude etc. To some, these may seem a little odd and something they would never try but research support the calming therapeutic nature of these activities. I would encourage everyone to try something new and if its not for them, move on till you find your perfect activity.
I will be writing another blog on stress in a little more detail which is the perfect follow up to this one.
10 Top tips.
- Plan your relaxation into your day – make it an integral part of your personalised Lifestyle Bible. Whatever it is, reading, listening to music, meditation, a walk in nature, painting, playing a musical instrument, taking up a new hobby, having a bath, exercise etc.
- Try to get a minimum of 15mins outside in the morning before work or your day begins. – In the summer have your breakfast outside, go for a quick walk or walk or cycle to work or part of the way, do some exercise outside, potter around your garden, grow some herbs and check on their progress every day, feed the birds and sit and watch. This can be a little more challenging on cold and rainy days, but if you can manage it, you will start your day energised and uplifted.
- Select one work free day a week for family orientated/me time – commit to a deliberate break from work and focus on your family and/or yourself.
- Review your relationship with digital technology – are you a slave to it? How can you use it to your advantage but be in control of the hold it has over you? Allocate times of the day in which you commit to ignoring it. Tell your friends and family – manage their expectations. Manage the expectations of your clients.
- Make meals times family times – set out some expectation, – everyone sits round the table, everyone remains seated until all have finished, use this as a time to find out what’s going on in your family. If you live alone, have a routine that you always sit at the table to eat and commit to no distraction. No screens of any kind for anyone.
- Never go to sleep on an argument. Always ensure you are calm and relaxed to benefit from a deep and uninterrupted sleep.
- Hug/stroke a loved one/friend or a pet frequently. Not only is this fantastic for relationships but research shows it reduces stress, makes you happier, reduces pain, slows the heart rate and improves communication. So, all those ‘huggy’ people out there have got something on their side.
- Eat food which doesn’t stress your body. Processed foods, sugar, alcohol (above recommended limits, nicotine, caffeine, carbonated commercial drinks, eating too much food, eating too little food, high levels of salt, high carbohydrate intake, foods you may be sensitive to too – commonly gluten and diary, not getting a variety of different foods in your body all make the body unhappy.
- Eat food which relaxes your body. Eat a rainbow diet, full of freshly prepared and ideally organic produce. Some nutrients are used up more in times of stress, so top up on these if you’re feeling you need it. B vitamins are used more in stressful times – sources are meat and fish, beans, pulses, whole grains, dark green leafy veg, sunflower seeds, almond, diary, avocados bananas. Vitamin C is used more during stress – sources are broccoli, Brussels, cauliflower, salad peppers, dark green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, salmon, mackerel. Magnesium is a natural relaxant and used more during stress – sources are nuts and seeds, dark green leafy vegetables, figs, avocados, bananas. Adequate protein, fibre and a little bit of resistant starch, helps build our happy mood chemicals.
- Exercise, but don’t over do it. Find an activity which is good for you. Ideally if you can do this outdoors even better. If you have never exercised before focus on something gentle, a walk is a really good start.