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The Science of Stress

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

While this is meant to be a season of joy and happiness, a majority of us just feel more stress than the entire year combined. Learning more about how and why your body reacts to stress can help you to take control of your emotions and change the way you feel.

I'm not going to go into a long science lesson because I don't want to lose any of you! But let me briefly introduce the autonomic nervous system (ANS) - as humans we have an incredibly complex nervous system which regulates bodily functions and has allowed us to survive and evolve over millions of years. The ANS has two branches: sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic (PSNS) nervous systems. When a threat is sensed, the SNS is activated causing your heart rate to rise and muscles to stiffen, you're ready to respond. In this state, the ability to feel your body decreases, because full attention is needed on that potential threat.

Most people refer to SNS when something alarming is happening, like accidentally cutting your finger in the kitchen or car accidents when you have so much going on around you that you need to clear the area and get everyone to safety before your mind even goes to the thought of how much pain you're actually in.

What most people don't relate SNS to, is the most common uses of it, the relentless nature of modern life. Work deadlines, unpaid bills, crowded spaces, unfamiliar places. All of these are alerting your SNS and bringing your full attention to this stress. PSNS is when your body is able to relax and focus on it's own personal needs. If your SNS is unable to be turned off, this can lead to anxiety, hyper vigilance, insomnia, IBS, muscle tightness, and long-term mental and physical health problems. If your SNS gets completely shut down this can cause symptoms often related to depression - persistent low mood, lack of motivation, and energy.

This can all happen from a traumatic incident or even just your normal, everyday stress being built up. So how can we prevent this?

Let's start with my favorite, that used to be my least favorite.. Turn to your feelings! Find a good journal and start writing out your thoughts, but don't be negative about it. I suggest, instead of writing down all the issues and using this as a way to vent, use this as a way to find solutions. Write down the stressor, acknowledge how it as made you feel and is effecting your life, but then write down ways you can improve the situation and even set yourself some goals!

You must begin to understand the importance of rest! This was, and honestly still is, a hard one for me. Are you always on the go, having a list of things you need to do, and it's most likely things you need to do for others? Even if it's for your spouse or kids, you get joy out of being able to help and be there for them, but you must learn to focus on yourself so that you can better serve those around you.

Making time throughout each day to down-regulate your system is possibly one of the most accessible and important actions you can do for physical and mental health and well-being. Listening to some of the worlds top thought leaders has been my go to! I'm able to listen to them in the car, while I'm cleaning, or even as I'm laying in bed before I start/end my day.

Take time to slow down and just breathe. Remember your why and ask yourself if you're able to give your all to everyone, or if you just need some time to relax and reset.

If you're looking for more ways to relieve your stress, email me and let's chat. I love receiving emails from you!



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