I recently took a class around energetic balance in the body. The goal of the class was to teach us how to combine knowledge of our body systems with use of intuitive visualization to heal ourselves and release deep-seated stress. Honestly, I thought I didn’t need this class. I was wrong. I learned that I was carrying a lot of stress—some of it not even mine. This stress was manifesting itself in my communication space, in my parenting space, in how I create wellness for myself, and in my creative space. I was unconsciously carrying stress, which was limiting. I wasn’t allowing myself to create how I wanted to create. I was being a robot. Do this, then that, then this, stay focused, etc. Expectation, demand, point A, point B, robot, robot, robot. This does not make for a very happy or very well person.
Discovery #1: The Autonomic Nervous System –aka Stress Responder
The systems we looked at and worked with over the course of the class were the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. While I had heard about these nervous systems before, I didn’t really know what each did, or its purpose. I just lumped them together as part of the autonomic nervous system, which regulates the body’s automatic functions. As it turns out, the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems each have very different, yet complementary, roles. The sympathetic nervous system rules the space of stimulating the body’s stress “fight-or-flight response”. It works in close part with our animal brain, or amygdala. The parasympathetic nervous system, on the other hand, stimulates the body’s “rest-and-digest” response. Both systems work with all systems of our body, with the hypothalamus being the main relayer of information so that each system knows when and how to react.
Discovery #2: Acute Stress Is Okay!
Our bodies are not designed to have everything easy and at our convenience. If we look at our evolution, our body was validated by the stresses of everyday life–namely meeting our survival needs–shelter and food. We had to hunt. The hunt required physical and mental endurance. Our bodies need stress to function. The kind of stress I’m talking about is acute stress. Acute stress validates our fight or flight response, is short term, and can give us a rush of excitement. It is what enables us to build our muscles, exercise our heart, and strengthen our bones. This is why exercise is so important to our well-being. Examples of acute stress include aerobic activity or riding a rollercoaster. In both examples, the stress one experiences is rather short-lived, yet may produce a rush of endorphins or adrenaline that flood the body and make it feel good. This type of stress validates our “fight-or flight” response as it produces increased heart rate, a heightened awareness of our surroundings, and a greater intake of oxygen.
Discovery #3: Chronic Stress Sucks!
While acute stress is a good thing and validates our body’s physiological functions, too much of it can result in things like tension headaches or upset stomachs. And if we get stuck in the day-in, day-out of life’s to do list, long term (or chronic) stress can result, which can wreck all kinds of havoc on our bodies. Some examples that contribute to long term stress include being stuck in an unhappy marriage, hating a job, or feeling like you just can’t escape some prolonged negative cycle in your life. This type of stress hangs over one’s head like a rain cloud and can cause ceaseless anxiety. Often we are unconscious, or remain unaware of the anxiety and its effects on our bodies because it’s been part of our lives for so long.
Physiologically, when we have a stress response, our cortisol levels are raised. (Cortisol is a hormone secreted from the adrenal glands that tells our body when to trigger the fight or flight response.) Normally this is fine; but when the stress response is never abated and remains in a chronic state, our cortisol levels remain high. This disrupts our bodies’ internal balance (homeostasis) and leads to a slew of not-so-good outcomes, including cardiovascular disease (hello family history), high blood pressure (hello me), and a reduction in the size of the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Oh, and by the way, a chronic stress state can also increase the size of the amygdala, making one even more susceptible to stress due to the body being in a predisposed state of “flight or fight.” Being in a continued state of fight or flight limits the body’s ability to heal and regenerate.
Discovery #4: How i released stress to get my body back to a regenerative, healing state.
When your body is in a parasympathetic state, it is easier for it to regenerate and heal. By working with the parasympathetic nervous system I was able to uncover and release deep-seated stress.
I did this first by meditating. This in and of itself was a healing. Through guided meditation I allowed my body to get to a state of quiet. This meant that I allowed myself to turn down my sympathetic nervous system and turn up my parasympathetic nervous system. Turning up the parasympathetic nervous system permitted my body to be still and set itself into healing mode. I turned parts of my autonomic nervous system up and down through visualization. Part of the class also involved doing Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to assist in the releasing of stuck energy.
It was a miracle for me to be able to get deeply quiet. I find this difficult to do being pulled in so many different directions throughout my day and week. As I went through the class, I was amazed to find out what was triggering a stress response in my body.
- I noticed a lot of my mother’s energy sat in my parasympathetic system, preventing me from healing myself at a deep level. She is part of my genetic makeup, so it’s natural for her energy to be there. What I was made aware of was that her stress response is imprinted in my cellular memory. This makes sense being that I watched her stress triggers growing up and was either part and party to being a part of them in the womb. How our parents handle(d) stress impacts us (even as adults) in our ability to handle stress. Being aware of this energy and releasing it was a great healing!
- Over the course of a month, I found that the energy of my day-to-day responsibilities stressed me out less than usual. This meant that my body was in a less stress reactive state.
- I also experienced less stress in the evening. My urgent “When I Get Home” to-do list suddenly didn’t seem so urgent.
- I became more mindful while eating all my meals. I made it a point to eat away from the computer, away from the TV and really enjoy my food. I made it a point to eat healthfully. This wasn’t a goal of the class, perse, but was an indirect outcome of me actively setting my body to a healing state.
- I slept better and felt more rested upon waking.
- Exercise didn’t seem so hard to fit into my day.
What You Can Do to Release Stress and Set Your Body to a Regenerative State
There are many ways you can get there body to a restful, quiet, parasympathetic state. For me, meeting weekly to set the energy made it easier to distance myself from all the responsibilities that lead to stress and lack of self-care. Here are a few other modalities (definitely not all that are “out there”) that work:
- Acupuncture: Acupuncturists target specific meridians to get the body back to a homeostatic state.
- Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT): EFT uses “psychological acupressure” to help release stuck energy. It involves setting the tone for that which you’d like to release, and then tapping specific meridians on the body in a particular sequence. I always, always feel more relaxed and calm after doing a sequence of EFT. Find out more about the sequence and tapping methods here.
- Yogic breathing and Yoga: Doing a yogic breath (making your exhale twice as long as your inhale) can be a quick to turn up your parasympathetic nervous system. Couple it with a daily ( couple of times weekly) yoga practice, and you’ll be set.
- Flotation Tanks/Therapy: Flotation (therapy) tanks (is) are designed to get your body back to homeostasis by getting you to turn off your brain (or what I see as shutting down the amygdala for a bit). This is done by reducing stimuli to your brain. You float in a pitch black tank of salt water for about an hour. This form of healing may shock the body at first, but over time, the body relaxes and healing kicks in.
If you have questions, give me a shout! You can also check out this energy setting guided meditation, specifically designed to get the body quiet. Here’s to wellness!