Last updated on February 10th, 2022
Even before the past two years unfolded, many people will have identified with being stressed on a regular basis. And the uncertainty of the recent past has only added more layers to already full lives. For far too many people this translates to feeling like you are on red alert on the inside more often than not. This always ‘on’ feeling can generate symptoms itself, plus, because stress hormones communicate danger to the body, they can cause a ripple effect of changes on other aspects of health. There is a region in your brain called the hypothalamus, where your hormonal system (endocrine system) and your nervous system meet, and when you perceive pressure, worry, overwhelm and other such emotions, this region lets the endocrine and nervous systems know to keep producing stress hormones. There is a part of the nervous system dedicated to the ‘fight, flight, freeze’ response, while its opposite branch, fosters calm and all of the processes this allows such as good digestion, restorative sleep and critical repair work on the inside and outside your body.
Signs your nervous system could use a holiday include:
- You feel stressed regularly or that you are on red alert
- Body tension or sore neck and shoulders
- You regularly crave sugars and/or starches (carbohydrates), particularly mid-afternoon
- You regularly don’t sleep well and/or don’t wake up restored or with good energy
- If you don’t go to sleep by 10pm, you get a second wind and end up staying awake beyond midnight
- You regularly feel tired but wired
- You feel anxious easily
- Your breathing tends to be shallow and quite fast
- You feel like everything is urgent and/or there aren’t enough hours in the day
Yet, even if any of the above aren’t true for you, your body will benefit immensely from any steps you take to spend more time in a calm state. After all for many, the pace of modern living doesn’t leave much space for rest unless we cultivate it for ourselves. Send your nervous system off for a relaxing beach holiday with these three tips.
1. Take a news and/or social media vacay
What you put into your mind is just as important as what you put into your body. The daily consumption of news and social media can fan the flames of an already wired nervous system. If you notice that what you are reading and/or scrolling over is making you feel anxious or fearful, consider taking a break from reading the news and social media. Sometimes we do this simply out of habit and once we break the habit, we realise we’re not missing all that much by not staying up-to-date every single day. Start with a week and see how you go.
2. Take some time out from notifications
Do you have every notification activated on your phone so that it pings and dings and frog croaks and duck quacks to let you know when you have a new message in any of maybe six different vehicles of communication? What about when you are mentioned on a social media platform? Is there a sound every time you receive an email? If so, that can all add up to a barrage of sounds across the day.
Turn off the sounds, keep your phone on silent, disconnect emails and simply use your phone as a phone for calls and text messages, if that appeals, or any combo of these. Choose when you check a social media platform rather than allowing a notification to prompt you. You may at first feel like you’ll be less efficient. But all it means is that you deal with emails and direct messages when you choose to go there. Start to notice if you really do have to deal with things immediately and urgently or if you just make yourself feel like that. Some jobs certainly require things be attended to with haste, but not many. We’ve just made it normal to check emails and respond to notifications at all times of the day and night.
3. Take a break from caffeine
While I wish it wasn’t so, caffeine is the fastest and surest way to ramp up your sympathetic nervous system (aka your fight or flight stress) response. And how many people start their day with a caffeinated beverage? More than 90 percent of people in the Western world consume caffeine every day. It is a powerful nervous system drug that drives the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline, the hormone that promotes the sympathetic nervous system to stay in the red alert alarm state. Over the years, many people have shared with me that they feel they couldn’t function without caffeine and if that feels true to you, reflect on why you perceive you need it. Is it because you wake up fatigued and are looking for something to give you the energy your body is currently lacking? Energy is the true marker of health and if it’s low, this can be feedback that you would benefit from some form of lifestyle change. Caffeine is a bit of a false promise. It may provide you with a short term energy boost yet, in the long term, it can deplete your energy. Consider whether you could benefit from taking a break from caffeine or at least reducing your intake to one cup a day. The first week of a caffeine rest can be challenging but beyond this you may be surprised by how much more energy you actually have without it.