With rampant violence and fear in our world today, it can be really difficult to find center and peace in our bodies and minds. Living in a time with such unpredictability is a literal constant stress. Over time, these consistent low grade stresses create a cascade of physical and emotional symptoms that effect our entire body.
When we live steeped in stress, our bodies react as if we are physically in danger, and we reside within the "fight or flight" response (the "sympathetic" mode of the autonomic nervous system).
Many of us chronically live in this state, rarely feeling able to relax into the healing "rest and digest" state (the "parasympathetic mode of the autonomic nervous system). Living in a long-term fight or flight response, even mildly, can lead to:
Chronic inflammatory issues
Chronic muscle tension
Hypertension/High blood prssure
Digestive issues including food allergies, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn's disease, and leaky gut
It can feel overwhelming to know where to begin to heal any of this, let alone guide ourselves to relax out of our vigilance. But really, the simplicity of slowing down and allowing yourself to switch into "rest and digest" mode is one of the most beneficial things that you can do. When we learn to reside in this state more of the time, we can do wonders for our long term health.
There are several super easy ways to transition our nervous systems into more relaxation, peace, and happiness.
It may sound cliche, but studies have linked grateful thinking to higher levels of dopamine and serotonin, two chemicals in the brain that regulate happiness, mood, anxiety, and our ability to feel reward. Many depression and anxiety drugs also aim to increase these two chemicals. Gratitude acts like a drug for our brains without any unwanted side-affects.
Ways to Invoke gratitude
Start a gratitude journal: At the end of each day, write 3-5 things that you are grateful for, big or small
Wake up with gratitude: As part of your morning routine, spend a couple moments to pondering things you are grateful for in your current situation. There is always something. This will help counteract the anxious thinking that many of us wake up with in the morning.
Whenever you feel yourself start to tense up or feel overwhelmed, imagine yourself in a familiar place or situation that elicits safety, gratitude, and peace. For example, your favorite spot in nature, your home, garden, or in the arms of someone who loves you dearly. Close your eyes if you can, and take a few deep breaths while bringing yourself fully into this experience.*
*Studies have demonstrated that the same cells in the brain light up whether we actually perform an action ourselves or if we watch someone do it: these mirror neurons help us evoke the sensations and benefits of physically being somewhere peaceful when we simply imagine it.
As humans we are wired for connection with others and with our community. For this newsletter, I read countless articles and scientific studies about how social interaction and connecting with others boosts our immune system, relieves anxiety and depression, and even reduces our physical pain.
For me, the antidote to feeling helpless and distraught over the political climate, environmental destruction, or hatred and violence in the world today has consistently been connecting with others. When I am alone in my fear and grief, I can feel utterly paralyzed and distraught. The moment I reach out to another, a huge weight is lifted. I remember the good in the world. I would also extend this connection to the natural world. We are creatures born out of relationship with the natural world.
There is something so nourishing about immersing yourself in a natural landscape, whether its your yard, a city park, body of water, a mountain meadow, or ancient forest. We are invited in to a sense of belonging. The woods accept us for who we are. The plants don't need us to be anyone besides our purest, unadorned selves. We can let go of trying. What a relief! This ability to connect with others and nature will help us shift into a more relaxed state of body and mind. And the more we do this, the healthier we will be.
Going deeper into connection, human touch is one of the most important and influential things we can do for our health. Touch has been shown to reduce our experience of pain, boost our immune systems, help us develop emotional intimacy, reduce violence in our communities, and even increase our math skills! WOW! So make sure to hug someone today.
And taking it a step further, the healing touch of a bodywork, energy work, or massage session can significantly impact the ENTIRE LIST of ailments at the beginning of the article. Because these sessions are so powerful for bringing us back to the "rest and digest" state in our nervous systems.
Book yourself or a loved one a session today.
Yes, we all have to breathe, but all breath is not created equal. The diaphragm muscle, our primary breathing muscle, is both voluntary and involuntary (meaning we don't need to think about breathing for it to happen, but we can also control it via our thinking). This provides us a way to affect change within our normally automatic "autonomic nervous system."
When we intentionally slow down our breathing, we literally can switch the state of our brain from "Fight or Flight" to "Rest and Digest." And likewise, when we breath quickly and shallowly we elicit a fear response.
Tending to our breath is so simple, yet extremely impactful for our long-term health.
So as you go about your days, remember these 4 TENETS to help move you into a calmer, more relaxed state of mind: GRATITUDE, CONNECTION, TOUCH, and BREATHING. This will directly impact your long term health and well-being.
If you are interested in going more in depth, here are a few of the articles I referenced:
New Neuroscience Reveals Four Rituals That Will Make You Happy
Why We Are Wired To Connect
8 Reasons Why We Need Human Touch More Than Ever
Connect To Thrive