How do we put the brakes on chronic stress and re-set our parasympathetic nervous system?
Back in the days when we were being chased through forests by wild animals our 'fight-or-flight' mechanism, which kicks in at the flick of a switch with any stressful situation, whether perceived or real, was undoubtedly life-saving.
Unfortunately, our brain cannot distinguish between real and perceived threats and the constant switching on of our 'fight-or-flight' mechanism, which produces an instant cascade of stress hormones, can be physiologically damaging over time. Studies have shown that chronic stress, with the resultant release of adrenaline and cortisol, causes high blood pressure, artery-clogging, obesity, depression and much more.
Here are some ways in which we can support ourselves naturally and help up-regulate the parasympathetic nervous system, our best friend in combating long-term chronic stress.
The 4-7-8 breath. Breathe in to the count of four, hold to the count of seven and exhale to the count of 8. Initially, until you get used to it, practicing just four rounds and building up eventually to eight. If practiced during the day as a relaxation technique try to adopt a good posture with a straight spine. Otherwise, in bed at night lying on the back it will help to induce sleep.
Alternate nostril breathing. Practice seated with a straight spine. Block off the right with your thumb and inhale through the left nostril. At the top of the breath, block off the left nostril with one of your other fingers,hold briefly and then release the thumb and exhale through the right nostril. Inhale now through the right nostril, at the top of the inhale, block off the right nostril and exhale through the left nostril. You have now completed one full round. Build up slowly to a total of ten rounds. Alternate nostril breathing helps decrease stress levels as well as improving lung function and upper respiratory health.
Most yoga practices will be beneficial for the nervous system. Yin Yoga, however is particularly beneficial as the postures are held for longer working deep into the fascia of the body where there are more nerve endings than anywhere else in the body. As poses are held for a longer period of time in a Yin practice, everything in the body begins to slow down. Surrendering into the pose is a common theme in Yin, giving up the need to control. Practicing in this way can help develop more resilience to stress in daily life. Within the holding of a Yin pose we are brought into a mini meditative state, allowing mind and body to merge as one.
1. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis).
Studies have shown that lemon balm can help with mild to moderate anxiety and sleep disturbance. Can be used in supplemental form or daily as a calming tea. It is also excellent for digestive health and is a good antioxidant.
2. Vitamin B6
Required for the synthesis of GABA, serotonin and dopamine and is often found in high levels in the brain. Food sources high in vitamin B6 include - wholegrains, eggs, poultry and fish. If taking in supplement form, it's best taken as part of a B-Complex. Always consult a nutritional therapist prior to self-supplementing.
Deficiency of this mineral has been associated with anxiety. It also plays an important part in the synthesis of dietary B6. So if zinc is low, B6 levels are also likely to be low and as a result this could result in low levels of GABA, serotonin and dopamine. Foods high in zinc include - shellfish, legumes, nuts, seeds and eggs. So if these foods are low in your diet, you may want to consider supplementing.
The above is for information only and not a substitute for medical advice or the advice and recommendation of your nutritional therapist or other relevant healthcare provider.