October is Stress Management Month at Anna Marsh Nutrition HQ (HQ being me sitting at my dining room table, typing up this post).
Over the past 3 post I’ve addressed some of the ways in which stress affects us. I wanted you to understand some of the background sciency stuff first. I know that the sciency stuff isn’t sexy, but it’s so empowering to understand and I’ve tried to keep it simple.
If you’ve missed it, Everything is up on the blog so you can catch up.
I think I’ve painted enough of a doom and gloom picture of how modern day living is impacting our health, weight, mood, hormones, skin, digestion etc etc.
Now it’s time to look at solutions! (finally!)
Last year I attended a Functional Medicine Conference in Chicago. One of my favourite quotes from the whole 6 days was…
Currently, we have such a warped perception of what balance looks like.
I’ve had two conversations with two different clients recently. Both have said “But I’m not stressed” then we have tested their stress hormones and found otherwise!
Almost a year ago to the day I sent an email out telling the story of one of my close friends to communicate this point.
I was in South Africa this time last year for a good friends wedding. I met up with one of my oldest friends and one evening we hiked up Lions Head in Cape Town.
We were walking and talking and she shared with me that earlier that year she’d had a break down. She was suffering from insomnia and was eventually hospitalised and had a coma induced for 3 days.
She had moved to Cape Town to get away from her stressful life in Johannesburg after being caught in the crossfire of a road rage incident.
Although the move was a positive one, moving home, cities and adjusting to a new job without her normal support network was another stress to add to the pile and she was potentially also suffering from PTSD after the incident in Joburg.
It all came to a head when she collapsed and was fortunate enough to be given 3 months off work to heal.
Although it sounds traumatic, and it was, she describes it as a blessing in disguise because it made her realised what was important.
It’s not normal to stare at the ceiling, unable to sleep at night and then head to work like a zombie on 1-2 hours of shut eye.
It’s not normal to feel like you have been hit by a bus after a good nights sleep.
It’s not normal to struggle to get out of bed in the morning.
It’s not normal to ache all over and live with brain fog, or low mood, or digestive complaints, or imbalanced hormones.
These are all complaints of imbalance. And remember this…
What I’d like to give you today is a tool to evaluate where you are at right now. The same tool can be used to start to strip things back.
This is something that I teach my clients, it’s called Parasympathetic and Sympathetic Balance.
These are the two parts of the nervous system. Parasympathetic is for resting and recovering. Sympathetic is responsible for a stressed state.
Get a pen and paper and what we are going to do is write down how many hours of the day you spend in each parts of the nervous system.
When we consider there are 24 hours in the day, “balance” would equate to 12 hours in each.
So write down everything you do each day.
Sympathetic Activities include:
- watching TV (particularly violent or disturbing programs/imagery)
- social engagements
- drinking coffee etc.
Parasympathetic Activities include:
- spending time outdoors in nature
- yoga (not too dynamic)
- stroking your pets
- lying in bed and reading a book
- playing a musical instrument or listening to relaxing music
- taking a hot bath
- giving gratitude etc.
How much time do you spend in each?
How far out of balance are you?
If you live your life like many other people you are probably “on” from the moment you wake up in the morning, until your get into bed at night (and even then you might scroll on your tablet or phone for a bit).
Depending on what time you wake and sleep that could be 17 hours of the day give or take.
The goal in this case is not to aim to change so many things that you have a 12/12 split tomorrow (this in itself will create stress).
Instead, start 15, 20, 30 minutes at a time and claim back small pieces of your parasympathetic life.
Here are some ideas:
- Download headspace – the free meditation app – start with 10 minutes a day
- Get into bed at night and read something relaxing instead of the news or social media
- Aim to get to sleep 30 minutes earlier
- Start a yoga class
- Learn to breathe
- Take 15 minutes outside at lunch time
- Avoid turning the TV on a few evenings a week and have a hot bath instead (as a bonus, add epsom salts to your bath – the magnesium can be very beneficial for stress)
These are but small changes, but small changes over time can make a big difference.
After all, a change is the solution and a small change can make a big difference.
Start now, where you are, with what you have.
More help to follow in the next post.
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