Stress WILL make you sick!
We still of course want to take proper precautions - wash your hands, practice social distancing, avoid large groups, etc… but instead of practicing this out of fear, do it out of respect for other people’s health and well-being, and as an act of service to the people working to keep everyone safe and healthy.
As our patients know, one of the easiest things to help decrease the stress response in the body is chiropractic care (!), but while our office is closed, we're encouraging our patients, family and friends to do whatever they can at home to try to decrease this stress (sympathetic) response and increase the body's relaxation (parasympathetic) response.
At home techniques to increase parasympathetic activation
One of the easiest at-home ways to activate the parasympathetic nervous system is to practice gratitude. The more we can take a step back to appreciate show gratitude, the more we can “calm-down” and dampen this fight/flight response in our nervous system. Researchers at UC Davis have studied the positive effects that a practice of gratitude can have on your body. How do you start? Maybe start a gratitude journal - one of my favorites is the five-minute journal or you can download a template here.
Slow, deep breaths help to activate your Vagus Nerve - basically the “big mama” for our parasympathetic nervous system. Some reminders for conscious breath? Take a deep breath in through your nose, into your abdomen first. As you breathe in, your breath will move upward towards your diaphragm and lungs. When you have a full breath, hold for a second or 2, then allow the breath to release slowly through your mouth. Bonus biohack - match the timing of your exhale count to your inhale count. Ex - inhale for 6 seconds, exhale for 6 seconds.
3. Get out for a walk or some fresh air!
Walking (or even just spending time in nature!) for at least 20 minutes each day has been shown to reduce cortisol levels.
4. Activate your oculocardiac reflex
When our body elicits a response to an outside stimulus without us thinking about it, it’s called a reflex. There is a cool reflex associated with the parasympathetic nervous system. With slight pressure on the outside of your closed eye, your heart rate decreases. How can you take advantage of this reflex to help you relax? You can close one eye and apply light pressure to the outside of your eyelid for a few seconds. OR, you can relax with an eye pillow resting over your closed eyes - this will apply a very light pressure to both eyelids.
5. Straighten Up!
When we are in fight/flight stress mode, our body neurologically goes into a flexed position. Our hip flexors will tighten, and we will assume a slightly hunched posture because our body thinks it needs to go into “protective mode.” When we’re sitting at our work from home office stations all day, this continues to neurologically integrate this bad, stressed out/hunched position. If you’re working from home, make sure you’re getting up for at least 10 minutes every hour - do some overhead reach stretches and/or some gentle lunge stretches to stretch those hip flexors! Check out this article on 8 poses for iliopsoas release.
6. Try some gentle yoga
One of the reasons why yoga is so great for the body is because it activates the parasympathetic nervous system through many mechanisms - some of which we’ve already discussed. It incorporates nice, even tempered breathing AND many of the movements focus not only on extending the body, but also stretching & releasing the psoas.