Soothing the nervous system for stress relief

What is stress?

Are you looking for stress relief? One of the keys to relieving stress is understanding it.

Stress is what we commonly call the combination of the body’s emotional and physiological reactions to perceived threat. It will react to anything that throws it off balance. When stressed out, the body-mind goes into a kind of alarm mode. This is adaptive; it enables the body-mind to respond and then repair itself.

What’s the matter with stress?

Because it is adaptive, the body-mind’s stress reaction itself is not a problem. Problems arise when either we view stress as bad, or when stress becomes chronic—being in a constant alarm state without a rest-and-digest cycle. Without the rest-and-digest cycle, your body is constantly mobilizing to provide exceptional resources. This drains the body and nervous system, and causes dysregulation.

You know what this is like: you feel like you’re on your last nerve; every little irritant seems like a big deal; your fuse is short; your mind races and you can’t shut it off; you have trouble sleeping.

If your body never gets to rest and digest so that it can assimilate fuel and nutrients as well as emotional experiences and thereby repair itself, you get depleted. Then, as you start running on empty, you begin to experience more and more symptoms that just won’t go away.

Do you need stress relief?

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms below, you can benefit from some stress relief.

Chronic stress affects all the systems in the body-mind. To begin with, the sympathetic nervous system kicks into gear and activates all the systems listed below, and you will experience related symptoms.

  • Cardiovascular: heart pounding or beating fast; flushing or blushing; cold hands and/or feet, or sweaty palms.
  • Respiratory: rapid, shallow breathing
  • Gastrointestinal: indigestion, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and/or constipation
  • Endocrine: the hormones released will make you feel jittery, jumpy, nervous,
  • Musculoskeletal: muscle tension, headaches, muscle aches, chest pain
  • Mind: racing thoughts; can’t relax; can’t shut down; worry; anger; irritability; short fuse; can’t enjoy the things you used to.

Using experiences to relieve stress

Because of the way the human brain is structured, when it’s in alarm mode, logic and language don’t work well.

You know what this is like. Telling yourself to relax doesn’t help you relax. Telling your mind to shut up doesn’t stop the endless looping of thoughts. Saying to yourself “This is really no big deal, what’s your problem?” doesn’t help to put the problem into its proper perspective.

The body-mind responds to experience. What works well for stress relief are actual, lived experiences of relaxation, a calm mind, and a proper perspective, among other things.

Soothing your nervous system

When you’re stressed, the body-mind is in an alarm state.  Stress-inducing phenomena are everywhere (including in your thoughts), so your body-mind is constantly barraged by alarm messages. To de-activate the alarm, the body-mind needs to be soothed.

Soothing the body-mind means offering it opportunities that make it, metaphorically speaking (and maybe quite literally, too) heave a sigh. So for some people, this might mean a hot bath, but for others, it might mean watching a funny movie or having a massage, or even having a good cry. Again, in order to apply this principle effectively, you must find your way of sending yourself soothing messages.

I invite you to think of old activities you could pick up again, or maybe add in new ones you’ve always longed to do. Don’t limit yourself to the examples above. Experiment with a variety of activities and see how they make you feel. Here are ideas for things to try.

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About the author 

Shulamit Berlevtov  -  Shulamit (she/her) is the Entrepreneurs' Therapist. She is working passionately to mitigate the entrepreneurial mental health crisis through keynote speaking and educational workshops and by supporting women entrepreneurs 1:1 to care for their mental and emotional wellbeing and their money psychology in an era of relentless stressors that can make you want to lose your crap on the daily.

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