Parasympathetic? As mentioned in previous blogs (or if you’ve come from the stress e-book you’ve read through this part), the Parasympathetic system is essential to stress and our bodies ability to get back to homeostasis. It is the calm side of the dial (you’ll get this reference from the book). In layman’s terms, these are the 2 most important F’s after we have dealt with the threat or stressor that caused our stress response in the first place.
Those two F’s are, Feeding and (F) mating. Put another way, “Rest and Digest.”
It’s important that once we experience stress and the sympathetic side has done its job, we allow this half of the system to take over, or as said previously, allow the body to turn the dial this way.
Welcome to Cortisol
Here is where we get to reduce cortisol and allow the body to return to its normal position. We are no longer fleeing or fighting off predators, arguing with our boss pushing to reach deadlines. To save double-dipping, you can read all about the consequences of this behaviour in our book “Ancient systems in Modern times”
Some of the benefits that come from this side of the dial are pretty easy to understand. Resting and sleep. Your body can get back to normal sleep behaviour as it’s not stimulated. Eating and digestion. Your metabolism and digestion have returned to normal, as it’s not essential to hold that action sequence anymore. Your hormones are back to normal behaviour, so libido and sexual desire come back. The body can also prioritise healing itself again, focusing on nutrient absorption, rebuilding muscle tissue, and immune responses etc. Clearly, this side of the table has some enormous responsibilities regarding general health and having balance back in our body.
So in reading all of this, let’s look at some ways we can de-stimulate the Sympathetic nervous system and learn to relax.
- Confronting your dragons: This may seem counterintuitive, but facing a problem before it swells up into a 20 ft. tall gold-scaled dragon ready to burn down your village, (life) prevents the build-up of anxiety and fear responses. If we can recognise and remove a problem before it becomes so large that our brain decides we don’t possess the skills or weapons to defeat it; we can deal with the issue, confront the problem, and let it pass. Taking a simple boulder away from the pile of stress we have built up.
- Journaling: Putting your feelings, thoughts, emotions to paper really helps articulate and rationalise them. What are the million things in your mind at once that can be organised and jotted down to give you some clarity? It can be as simple as how your day was or a weekly check-up with yourself about how you are feeling. Positive reflections about what you did well whilst also keeping yourself accountable to problems you noticed. This is a perfect way to take your mind and give it tangibility in the form of writing. Once it’s out there, it can’t just sit in your mind and fester away.
- Self-care: We often misconstrue this with alcohol or partying (considering that’s usually a depressant, not best advice), but self-care can be anything from the person’s perspective that enhances a relaxed state. Massages, gardening, pamper days and hot spas, playing the Xbox or PlayStation, exercise or a light walk. Whatever It is we appraise as a calming, relaxing activity that does not have or possess negative consequences could be classed as self-care.
- Hobbies and interests: this goes well with self-care, but hobbies or interests outside of work and family life are essential to maintain healthy, effective mental wellbeing. For me, it’s bodybuilding, playing a console, reading comics, and my monthly remedial massage. It takes my mind away from overthinking. I get to use my wits, my energy my physical stature and put them into things that positively affect my body. This can be anything from painting to seeing movies, writing books, reading and so on.
- Communication: This is key to any relationship not being bound by stress. Too many times, simple conversations can be had to fix not dictating any problems that arise in the family home. (It is meant to be a safe place from the outside world where people can retreat to be comfortable and supported) Communicating problems without emotion or aggression is key to keeping the home stress free.
- Diet: Nutrition is a massive factor for stress. Evidence is slowly coming out supporting the idea that how we eat affects our minds and bodies. Being aware of what we eat, how we eat, where we eat, and with whom we eat all helps with the stress response. You don’t want to try scoff down a massive meal whilst being criticised at work and only given 5 minutes to eat crappy food because of your behind. Not to mention the fact you haven’t had a simple whole food meal in days consisting of lean meats or veg.
- Environment: As I’ve written about previously, your environment plays such a huge role in stress. Where you place yourself in the world, who you surround yourself with, the things you expose yourself to impact stress. Negative feedback loops are a cataclysmic shit fight waiting to happen as they go on and on. The next thing we know, everything you see, hear, do, and smell is stressful. Control your environment to be distressful where possible... It makes a world of difference!!
- Intimacy: Everyone’s favourite taboo thing to barely mention yet has profound effects on stress... ‘SEX’ having regular intimate interactions with someone causes a release of many positive hormones, dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins. The body simply feels and is happy, satisfied and relaxed after a good stint in the sheets. Apply some of these other tips to number 8 and see how even more relaxed you become.
Bonus point: If your country or state legalises it, woody nelsons favourite herb and spice is a great cherry to place on top for any of these situations, given it’s not used for escapism, but rather the relaxed state it provides.
Take home message
I wanted to touch on briefly. As discussed in our E-book, the expansion into environmental stress has further enhanced my understanding of stress reduction and cognitive attention rejuvenation theory. The idea emphasises the power, natural surroundings have in a reduction of stress.
The more in nature and green environments we can be, the more destimulated we can become. As we spend more time here in the sense of euphoria, enjoyment, curiosity, interest and pleasure, the better our reduction is. It may seem like an intuitive process when you think about times in your life you’ve felt better or at peace in nature. It’s just that now the evidence is becoming clear on the topic. It also shows an improvement in moods and attention capacity. Likely correlated to the lack of sensory stimuli within our peripheral and direct vision, our cognitive load almost eases, and lets our attention come back.
Try thinking about this when you are partaking in some of these other steps and see if they can improve your responses. The idea is to get your body back in a balanced state. Relaxed, resting and healing. The parasympathetic is just as much part of the stress response as our fight or flight, so when everyone says they are stressed and hate their life for being so, they really are missing half the story. Give yourself time to experience these things and even schedule them in your weeks or days. I promise you will feel a lot better for it.