“Just Relax!” - Relaxation and The Stress Response
JUST RELAX! CHILL OUT! CALM DOWN!
Have you heard these words from friends or family before? Or maybe you say them to yourself? But how many of us can actually relax just by being told to relax? Do we chill out when we hear the words “Chill out”? And I mean really, do we ever calm down when we hear “Calm down!”? If only life were that easy. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. When we hear these words it can increase our stress exponentially.
But who isn’t overwhelmed with life? It’s almost as if being busy and stressed is a right of passage these days. It’s righteous to be seen as Wonder Woman, a superhero that can accomplish all, and be everything to everyone. But in reality we are harming our health and becoming less efficient and effective in our daily tasks, and in the end we won’t be there for the people that need us the most, the ones we are running all over creation for in the first place.
THE STRESS RESPONSE
When we are constantly busy and rushing around, day-in and day-out, this is called chronic low-level stress. We can also go into “panic mode” in response to something specific, such as when we are late for an appointment, or in the middle of an argument, or heading into a meeting that we’re not prepared for, or in the middle of an actual emergency. True panic mode and chronic low-level stress both create the stress response in our bodies (to varying degrees) because our bodies don’t know that we are not in a life-threatening situation. It thinks we’re being chased by a lion and it’s job is to save us here.
Many things happen in our bodies when the stress response is activated. Some have a physical reaction that you can feel, and others happen without you even knowing. For example, our heart rate speeds up, our blood pressure increases, and our respiration quickens, all of which you might be able to notice if you stop and pay attention. In addition, certain hormones are released into our bloodstream that help provide immediate energy, such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol, and our blood flow is rerouted to our brain (for quick thinking) and to our limbs (so we can run or fight the lion!). So if we’re eating under stress, even low-level stress, our blood flow is pulled away from our stomach where it’s needed for digestion.
YOUR MOOD OR YOUR FOOD?
This is why many people have digestive issues when they eat. They assume it’s the food when it’s very likely due to stress. Keep in mind that you can eat a bowl of kale or an organic apple, but if you eat it under stress, your ability to digest it will be greatly reduced. Our digestive enzyme content is reduced and therefore will impair the breakdown of protein, fats, and carbohydrates, and further will decrease the assimilation of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. So trust me when I say that what you eat is important, but just as important is the mood you are in when you eat it.
The next time you are preparing to eat, take just a few minutes to relax before you take your first bite. And keep in mind that the same part of your brain that turns on stress, turns off digestion, and the part of your brain that turns on relaxation, turns on digestion.
HOW DO I RELAX?
The first thing I would suggest is that you become a slow, relaxed eater. This should be a simple task, but it’s not. I know from first-hand experience. I am naturally a very fast eater and I still have to remind myself at every meal to slow down.
The best way to make this happen is to plan. Arrange your schedule so that you have extra time at every meal to breathe and eat slowly. Then, before you take your first bite, take ten slow, deep breaths.
Breathe in through your nose, allowing your stomach to fill with oxygen and expand (not the kind of breath that just raises your chest) hold for two or three seconds, and then breathe out slowly through your nose. Repeat nine more times. Now you’re ready to start your meal in a more relaxed state. During your meal, I will suggest that you stop three more times and take one deep breath.
To help you remember to slow down and breathe, we have created a special pdf just for you with four reminder cards that you can place in significant spots that you will see throughout your day. Feel free to print multiple copies so you can have more reminders in your day. Put them on your bathroom mirror, on your nightstand, on your refrigerator door, on your kitchen table, on the inside of your front door where you will see it as you walk out of the house, in your car, in your office, or any other place that you will see daily. Get your free pdf HERE!
I hope this helps and that you find it simple to implement into your life. Although I hope you don’t misinterpret that as that it should be easy to do. This takes lots and lots of practice. Allow yourself the space to keep trying again and again. Every time you find yourself eating fast, just slow down and try again. And please share your struggles and your wins on my Facebook page. I would LOVE to hear from you!