What is stress?
Stress is actually a good thing, created by our bodies to sustain our functioning under high tension events and experiences and help us survive them.
In the past that would’ve been hunting for prey, defending from a neighbouring tribe or running from predators.
This natural reaction we call “stress” takes us out of rest and digest mode and propels our hormones into fight or flight mode.
Adrenaline and cortisol are shot up to give us energy and mobilize our body’s resources to our limbs and brain.
And in doing so we shut off the support our digestion needs to function properly.
Our body does this because it chooses living through the day rather than extracting nutrients out of our food well.
But this is all natural and we’ve evolved to deal with these situations, shoot our stress hormones high, fix our problems and then have our stress hormones drop, our body rebound into rest and digest mode and healing and repair to take place.
Today, it’s not so simple.
We wake up to an alarm and a thousand “to-do’s” run through our head…
Even worse than that, we live in a low level of stress the whole day.
Whereas before we would hang out, prepare food and socialize, only to have an extreme period of stress here and there throughout the day(if that).
Today we find ourselves having to work every day and catch up on the weekend with everything we fell behind with.
So instead of us having a spike of stress and then properly rebounding into resting and digesting so that we can heal, instead we stress from dawn to dusk…
We rarely get enough sunlight to regulate our circadian rhythms that make sure our bodies are tuned with the environment and functioning harmoniously.
Everything we eat except for our dinner binge is “on-the-go” or “fast food” because we simply don’t make time for ourselves anymore…
We have to produce.
But our bodies are very adaptive and just the fact that we’ve made it this far is testament to that.
So we can stress all day…
We just have to make sure we find time to rest and digest even better than ever before.
Just a few minutes of a stress reducing activity can significantly drop our cortisol and bring much more blood flow to our digestion.
It’s important that if we’re finding ourselves on a high stress “go go go” day that we take even just a few minutes to break it up and throw away all that build up of stress.
So let’s talk about some good stress relievers to stop that tension that just builds and builds and builds until we eventually trigger a migraine.
This is important as it helps us tap into our own bodies and feel where all the stress is settling, whether it be neck, shoulders, low back etc.
It helps to stop here for a second and just tune into yourself. Feel where the tensions sitting and consciously take a moment to release it.
After that take your hands or a simple tool like a ball or rolling pin and massage the area out.
When doing this it’s important to breathe deeply and breath out all the tension being released and continue lowering our stress hormones.
An easy way to start is to make yourself a deal to just do 1 rotation and breath, everyone can do one.
If you’ve done it and feel like you can do some more, go for it, but start with 1 as 1 is better than none.
Depending on where you are finding tightness you may want to use a circular motion or clasping motion and also massage some of the areas connected to the main one.
Always make sure you take note of where the tension is and tender points so that you can bring it up with your holistic healthcare provider if the same area is continually tightening up.
This may point to a set of organs that are under stress and releasing their extra energy into muscles.
For more information on self massage ask your masseuse, CHEK practitioner or learn about reflexology.
This is a new one with the advancement of technology and some people absolutely rave about their binaural beats.
The idea is that the brain is constantly changing it’s frequency depending on what’s going on:
– Deep sleep or deep trance (Delta; 1-4 Hz)
– Meditation (Theta; 4-8 Hz)
– Relaxed awareness or daydreaming, (Alpha; 8-12 Hz)
– A state of relaxed focus (Low-beta, or sensorimotor rhythm [SMR]; 12-15 Hz)
– Alert mental activity/concentration (Mid-beta; ~15-18 Hz)
– Anxiety (High-beta; >18 Hz)
– High-level information processing (Gamma; >30 Hz)
Binaural beats are when two different tones are used on a pair of headphones that your brain interprets as one new tone and can help you move into a state of relaxation or focus or energy or love or whatever it may be.
Even though no studies have found that binaural beats actually change the brain’s frequencies, studies have found binaural beats to slow down heart rate, relieve anxiety and improve quality of life.(1)(2)(3)
Other benefits touted by producers of binaural beats include increased focus, concentration, sleep, motivation, confidence, and depth in meditation.
Some good songs to try include:
There are many more binaural beats available on youtube and through apps.
Some well known stress relieving songs(not binaural) include:
For more information on binaural beats click here.
Do you know how to breath?
Statistically speaking, you probably don’t.
But that’s just the way we are raised, to worry more about geometry and our grades than our own connection with our bodies.
But breathing is so powerful… So, so powerful.
We can live for weeks without eating, and days without drinking but only minutes without breathing…
Our breathing rate is an amazing indicator of not only foods we are sensitive to but also how taxed our body is and if we are overdoing simple sugars.
But that’s a different story, today we’re talking about how deeply connected our breath is to our bodies stress response.
When we are stressed, we tighten up and breathe very shallow and quick.
So then the opposite is what we are simulating in the body so that our body knows its okay to relax and that we won’t die from not being acutely aware of everything we “need” to do.
We want deep, slow, long breaths.
Just a few of them can help turn that switch on and reroute our body’s resources into resting and digesting.
Our regular breathing should be around 8-12 seconds including inhaling and exhaling, when we are at rest.
So simply bringing our breathing down to 4-6 seconds in and 4-6 seconds out helps us reprogram our normal.
But for relaxation we want to do a 2:1 breathing pattern where our exhale is twice as long as our inhale.
Making sure we have deep diaphragmatic breaths and “breathe into our bellies.”
This means our shoulders do not lift and our neck does not tighten.
So if you are breathing at a 4 second inhale you will breath out at a 8 second exhale.
Remember that setting a goal of 1 is good enough. If you can just do one you are already changing your brains focus and anybody can do 1.
If you’ve done 1 and feel like you can do more, go for it.
2-3 minutes of breathing is shown to completely change our body’s physiological focus and put us into rest and digest mode.
Do you even play?
As we grow up we can often get so caught up in our careers, images and taking care of our families that we forget we are still children inside.
No matter who you are or what you do, there is still a child inside of you and that child needs to play.
That child also need attention and support and to be acknowledged as a piece of this big complex puzzle that is a human.
We are still just children.
We just have more responsibilities and older bodies so we sometimes trick ourselves into thinking we are something other than a loving, caring, playful sack of skin, bones and emotion.
And the most essential ingredient in our ability to reduce stress and take us out of this state is our ability to play.
To play with our pets, to play with our loved ones or children and to play with ourselves, remembering to not take ourselves to seriously and get caught up in emotions that we don’t actually want to continue feeling.
So how do we play?
There are an infinite number of ways because play is one of the most essential ingredients in not only our evolution, but the evolution of all species on earth.
But to find play within ourselves we have to open up our hearts because play is a natural state.
And to open our hearts, we have to let go, break down and release our heart walls.
Our heart walls are all these things(images, ideas, beliefs) that we’ve created(or had to create) that wall off our hearts from being hurt.
These walls not only prevent our hearts from being hurt, but also from feeling fully and experiencing the beautiful emotions that life comes with.
So how do we let go of the walls we’ve built between us and our play?
Well, we have to stop taking ourselves so seriously…
Whether that be stopping, dropping and rolling, goofing off with our kids or just letting our pets lick our faces as much as they want.
It depends on you and what opens your heart.
It’s important to explore play as an essential tool in our stress killing toolkit and I invite you to comment and tell me what your “play” activity is.
For more information on play go outside and ease up a bit.
This is so awesome and studies are showing just how different the brains of those who take time to be grateful are compared to those who don’t.
Gratitude is an exceptional stress killer because when we are thankful for what we have, we aren’t worried about what we don’t or what we need to do.
Gratitude – the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
It can be hard remembering to be grateful for all the things we have when we are continually hit with mind wrenching migraines.
But we can either choose to keep feeling sorry for ourselves, or flip the switch on our bodies and be grateful, slowly and surely giving our body’s the resources to heal.
So how do we be grateful?
The simplest way is the state the things you’re grateful for. To do this I use an app called gratitude journal but its easy to just write it on a piece of paper.
You don’t have to make a huge list, just pick one thing you’re really grateful for each day.
Some other ways to be grateful include:
Don’t be picky: appreciate everything
Find gratitude in your challenges
Keep a gratitude journal
Spend time with loved ones
Improve your happiness in other areas of your life
Remember, stressed out is not our natural and neutral state and it does us no good to stay in one as the longer we are in it, the worse our mental, emotional and physical capacity to actually deal with whatever experiences actually need stress to get us through them.
Stress has many signs, symptoms and underlying causes so it’s important to always consult your healthcare provider before making changes.
What’s your destressing routine?
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Holistic Health Practitioner
Mark Canadic is a writer, speaker, holistic health practitioner and migraine community leader. Read Mark’s inspiring comeback story, “My Burnout and Brain Fires that Lead me to the Root.” Feel free to send Mark a message here.