Do you sometimes find your shoulders up to your ears?
I do, and when I do I relax them back down, only to find them several minutes later to have tensed back up again.
Enter the relaxation response, in which I relax my muscles and slow down my breathing.
Benson’s answer to stress was to meditate for 10 to 20 minutes twice per day. It’s a counter to the fight-or-flight response, which can lead to secretion of stress hormones which can lead to stress-related medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, GI diseases, adrenal fatigue and more.
What Benson found was the rest-and-digest response of the parasympathetic nervous system in our bodies. So the sympathetic nervous system controls our body’s fight-or-flight response and the parasympathetic nervous system helps to control our body’s response during times of rest.
I’m writing this column for me, by the way. Several stressful situations are going on for me right now and I need not to fret and worry, but to relax and trust.
Did you know there’s actually a thing called The American Institute of Stress? Yup. And they say that, at any given time, “about 33 percent of people report feeling extreme stress, 77 percent of people experience stress that affects their physical health and 73 percent of people have stress that affects their mental health.”
This is a fascinating topic and so relevant to each one of us. Not only do issues in our personal lives cause a stress response but we are assaulted all day with headlines that are designed to enrage us.
Thanks to ongoing research, we now know about many other ways, in addition to meditation, to activate our parasympathetic nervous system, causing the relaxation response.
An article in HealthNews.com cites these examples:
· Spend time in nature.
· Deep breathing: focus on inhaling all the way down to expand your belly and slowly exhale.
· Get enough sleep.
· Get a massage.
· Focus on a soothing word such as calm or peace.
· Play with animals or children.
· Practice yoga, chi kung or tai chi.
· Play sports.
· Do something you enjoy, like a favorite hobby.
· Exercise aerobically.
Singing is also known to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. Singing, humming and chanting all involve deep breathing and engage the muscles in the throat and vocal cords, thus activating the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve is one of the body’s longest and most complex nerves in the parasympathetic nervous system. It runs from the brain to the bowels, carrying signals such as pain, pressure, and temperature, to and from the brain. It helps the brain monitor and regulate various bodily functions.
The vagus nerve also influences these functions by releasing a neurotransmitter that helps control the activity of the organs. Which is why it plays such a big role in disease prevention.
Singing, deep breathing, and aerobic exercise all stimulate that vagus nerve.
I like the idea of singing.
Singing can be done almost anywhere, from singing in the shower to singing in your car to singing with the radio (or streaming service) or singing with friends or family.
Tra la la!