We all have stress. According to the American Psychological Association 50 to 90 percent of healthcare professional visits are stress related. As you have probably noticed, stress is often caused by job, relationship and financial challenges. But stress can also be disguised by environmental traps like blue light over-exposure, social media pressure and even non-nutritional foods that provide low-grade stressors to the body and brain.
Despite its bad rap, not all stress is negative. Under some conditions, stress can be beneficial and lead to growth if proper recovery is involved. The problem with stress in our society today is that we tend to get stuck on the stressed-out side of the spectrum for too long. Whether it’s a single dose of acute stress or low-grade stress over a long period, too much time in a stressful state can lead to a systemic downfall.
On the most stressed side of the spectrum, your body experiences a flood of excitatory hormones and reactions that are intended to help you through the threatening event. However, these excitatory reactions come at a costly price of energy — setting you up for depletion and burnout if adequate recovery time never comes.
Take a moment to reflect… where you do live on this stress spectrum right now? And how do you choose to relax?
Do you unwind with a glass of wine after work? Take it easy on a beach vacation? Scratch your pup for a while before bed? Or maybe de-stress with a yoga class? All of those choices have relaxing qualities. But there’s a chance that your body still may not reach what physiologists refer to as the relaxation response.
What is the Relaxation Response?
The relaxation response is a cascade-like event. It triggers many systems and networks within your body and brain to shift gears: They move into a down-regulated or parasympathetic state.
The relaxation response is your recovery apparatus. Your body experiences a flood of calming hormones and physiological reactions that prepare you for sleep, healing and regeneration. So how do you know the relaxation response has come on? These are the signs.
The Physical Signs You Are Truly Relaxed
When truly relaxed, the top 5 physiological affects experienced are:
- Decreased local or global muscle tension
- Decreased blood pressure
- Decreased heart rate
- Slower breathing rate
- Normalization of hormones and digestive functions
Bonus #6: Relaxation even plays a role in our gene expression. The article “Genomic counter-stress Changes Induced by Relaxation Response” published in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE, suggests that practicing the relaxation response can actually lead to genomic [or DNA] activity changes.
In the study, researchers looked at how the relaxation response affected each of the body’s 40,000 genes. They found that compared with a control group, those who regularly used the relaxation response induced anti-oxidation and anti-inflammatory changes that counteracted the effects of stress on the body.
Inducing Your Own Relaxation Response
A self-induced relaxation response is not only the most cost effective choice to down-regulate. Researchers have actually reported it is more effective and more likely to become a sustainable approach to stress and anxiety. Yay for self-care healthcare!
When one is truly experiencing the relaxed state, the vagus nerve is involved. It is coined the “wandering nerve” because it winds and wanders throughout your body. The vagus innervates your musculature, circulatory mechanisms and organs.
When the vagus nerve is activated, it is as though you’ve hit a systematic off-switch. First you start to yawn, then your eyelids get heavy, your breath slows and soon your body is melting into a sedated state. It is possible to mentally trigger the vagus nerve while practicing guided meditation or even forms of hypnosis. But the vagus nerve can also be triggered with a physical approach like breathing techniques or self-myofascial massage.
Psoas Release for Stress Relief
My favorite way to induce relaxation in the evening is to release my psoai with my Coregeous® ball. The Psoai are the deepest muscles of the core. They act as a portal to the nervous system via your respiratory diaphragm (the primary breathing muscle).
Positioned in such close proximity, one of the diaphragm’s ligaments (the medial arcuate) actually wraps around the top of each psoas. This fascial (connective tissue) relationship creates your ability to walk, breathe and also plays a major role in how you respond to both fear and rest.
The Psoai are a sensitive pair, literally a proprioceptive power-couple due to the numerous nerves that pass through, around and within the muscles. Moving from stress to rest is simple with Restore the Psoas, a down-regulating breath and nervous system reset.
Stress is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be the end-all in your life. Turning on this internal off-switch is the surest, simplest and quickest way to make the traverse across the stress spectrum back toward peace and relaxation. It is always worth it.