While we live our every life, we encounter a little thing call stress. Stress can be brought on by your environment at work, home, doctor offices, physical therapy (yes, even at physical therapy stress can happen), even driving on the road in traffic, everybody encounters it one way or another. With stress, the blood starts flowing, our heart rate races, hormones are brewing, our breathing gets faster and faster. This is all normal. This is simply based on our stress response that naturally occurs in our body. However, too much stress can be harmful to your health.
The stress response is a natural and normal reaction to any “threatening” situation. It throws everything off balance that is inside us. According to Simply Psychology, it is our bodies decision to detect whether or not it is a stressful situation. That decision is based on our sensory input and the processing our body does. If you are feeling stressful, your hypothalamus gets activated, which is in charge of your stress response. When your hypothalamus is triggered, it sends signals to your pituitary gland and adrenal medulla. Now, here comes the confusing part. There is a short term stress known as the Sympathomedullary Pathway (SAM), also known as the fight or flight. The long term stress is called the Hypothalamic Pituitary-Adrenal System (HPA).
With Hypothalamic Pituitary-Adrenal System (HPA), when the stressor activates the hypothalamus, signals are sent to the pituitary gland. Then the pituitary gland secretes a hormone called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH then stimulates the adrenal glands to produce a hormone called corticosteroid (cortisol). Then the cortisol enables the body to maintain your supply of your blood sugar throughout your body. Slowly, the levels of your blood sugar help cope with prolonged stressors and helps your body return to its original state.
With Sympathomedullary Pathway (SAM), the hypothalamus also activates the adrenal medulla, which is also part of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). The ANS is part of the peripheral nervous system that acts as the control center that helps maintain homeostasis in the body that us as humans cannot control ourselves. The adrenal medulla secretes a hormone called adrenaline which gets our bodies ready for a fight or flight response. During this, you may feel like your heart is pounding and your breathing get heavier. This is totally normal; our bodies are meant to do this. The adrenaline that is released leads to the arousal of the sympathetic nervous system and reduce the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system. The adrenaline creates chemical reactions in the body such as decreasing in digestions and other systems that are not really needed in the moment to increasing sweating, blood pressure, and pulse. Once the threat is over, the parasympathetic takes control and brings the body back to its balance state.
With every stress response there is a relaxation response. Psychology Today states that the relaxation response is the ability to encourage your body to release chemicals and brain signals that make your muscles and organs slow down to increase blood flow to the brain. Many people have their own way to relax. Whether it’s taking a hot shower, reading a book, practicing mindfulness inside and outside, or meditation.
During the relaxation state, you gain so many benefits; such as, slowing down the heart rate, lowering your blood pressure, slowing down your breathing, improving digestion, maintaining your blood sugar levels, improving sleep quality and much more.
According to Mayoclinic, there are three types of relaxation techniques; Autogenic Relaxation, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, and Visualization. Autogenic Relaxation focuses on things that comes from within you and during this technique, you use both visual imagery and body awareness to reduce stress. Progressive Muscle Relaxation focuses on slowly tensing the muscles and then slowly relaxing them one group at muscle at a time. In Visualization you may form mental images to take you to a peaceful, calming place or situation. Some of these may include deep breathing, massage, meditation, tai chi, yoga, music therapy, aromatherapy, hydrotherapy and many more. There also apps that can help you if you need to distress and relax for a short period of time. Did I mention that these apps are free? FREE!! Just to name a few; Headspcae, Stop, Breathe& Think, Calm, Happify, Pacifica, Mindshift, Breathe2relax. These apps are designed to help with stress management. Try to be open minded about all these options. If you truly believe that meditation or yoga or any of these options that are listed do not work for you, try to find something that is suitable for. Find something that you enjoy doing that relaxes you.
Stop, take a minute, breathe, and relax. A little a day goes a long way.