With summer coming to an end and “Back-To-School” season well on its way, some of you may find yourselves especially keyed up, on-edge, or overwhelmed as we transition into what will likely be our new normal for at least the next few weeks and months. Stress can impact our physical and emotional health and limit our abilities to adapt to our ever-changing environment. Taking the time to understand the rationale behind often prescribed relaxation strategies can help you understand how and why these strategies can be implemented to improve your sense of well-being and balance as you transition into this new stage of pandemic-life.
What do I need to know about the mind-body connection?
Although the specific pathways that link the mind and body are quite complex, there are some key features that are important to highlight in order to maximize your use of associated relaxation strategies.
- The mind-body connection is bidirectional.
Our mental states influence our bodies AND how our physical states influence our thoughts and feelings—it goes both ways. For example, stress can lead to increased heart rate, sweating, or muscle tension. And physical pain can lead to feelings of anxiety or depression.
- The “Fight-or Flight” Response is adaptive.
Physical symptoms alert you to assess your physical health and seek treatment; and your stress and anxiety can quickly get your body ready to act (e.g. fight or flee) in a way that can keep us safe. Your “fight-or-flight” response, also known as the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), is part of the central nervous system (CNS) and useful for keeping us safe in various threatening situations. However, it can become problematic when it is sustained for prolonged periods of time or when it is in overdrive.
- You can “Pump the Breaks.”
Fortunately, the CNS is also composed of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) which works to dampen the activating sympathetic response. If we think of the SNS as “stepping on the gas,” we can think of the PNS as “pumping the breaks.” Both systems are equally important and are in a constant “dance” in our bodies to help keep our vital organs functioning. However, when prolonged stress or anxiety puts the SNS in overdrive, finding ways to promote the PNS can help us to feel more balanced both mentally and physically.
What can I do to de-stress?
Relaxation exercises have been found to invoke the PNS (e.g. the “breaking system”) when your SNS response to stress has your system in overdrive. Relaxation exercises can help you feel calm and refreshed, think more clearly, and increase your awareness to better manage sources and symptoms of stress.
There are many different relaxation strategies that can be used to effectively manage the physical symptoms of stress—and different strategies work for different people. Nevertheless, for those beginning to explore such techniques, I typically recommend deep belly/diaphragmatic breathing, as it is one of the simplest relaxation exercises (Follow this link for a useful tutorial).
By practicing relaxation strategies for as little as a few minutes each day, you can build your ability turn on your PNS during times of stress. Like any new skill, it may take some practice, but is worth the investment of your time, especially if you are struggling to manage symptoms using your current strategies.
Watch the video above or contact us directly to learn more about how we can help you manage stress.
About Dr. Tanaka & Coronado Psych
Dr. Rika Tanaka (PSY30925) is a licensed psychologist and founder of Coronado Psych. At Coronado Psych, our mission is to offer high-quality, evidence-based psychological services and supportive counseling to our community. We currently have availability for new clients and are offering all sessions online or over-the-phone. We also have reduced fees available for healthcare and essential workers.
If you or someone you love is interested in therapy or supportive counseling, please feel free to contact Coronado Psych at (619) 554-0120 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also schedule a complimentary initial consultation at: https://coronado-psych.clientsecure.me.
Learn more by visiting our website (www.coronadopsych.com) or watching this brief video: