Welcome to the 4th and final part of our Everyday Athlete Handbook series. So far, we've covered Sleep, Nutrition, and Movement. Today, we add the perfect caboose to this train of important health pillars- STRESS MANAGEMENT.
Like movement, there is no body system or function that stress doesn’t affect. Constant low-level stress causes more deadly disease than anything else we have discussed here. Although we can’t change what the world gives us, we can change how our brain (and therefore our body) responds to it. Working on the mental aspects of health is as important as working on the physical aspects. There’s a huge amount of overlap here with what we have already discussed: the more you move, the less stress you have; the better you eat, the better you can handle stressful events; the better you sleep, the less likely you are to “snap” when things don’t seem to go as planned.
Below are some ways to help manage your stress on your own, but if you find yourself wanting a more personalized approach, let us know and we can help you find the right practitioner for your needs.
Diaphragmatic Breathing. Breathing is one of very few ways we can voluntarily affect our autonomic nervous system. Shallow, rapid breathing increases sympathetic “fight or flight” nervous system activity, while slow, deep breathing (diaphragmatic breathing) increases our parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system activity. If you are one of the many who is used to breathing primarily with their upper chest, it may be challenging at first to alter this so that the ribs and belly expand on the inhale. With practice it will become more natural. To practice, place the tip of your tongue against the bony ridge behind your upper front teeth and keep it there throughout the exercise. Inhale through your nose to a count of 4. Hold your breath easily to the count of 7, then exhale through your mouth to a count of 8. If you find this difficult, maintain the ratio but count at a faster pace. Start with only a few rounds and try to practice twice a day. As this gets easier, increase the number of rounds you do.
Mindfulness Meditation. There are many different forms of meditation. Research shows it is one of the most protective things that you can do for your brain and nervous system- think weight training for your brain. Mindfulness, where you focus on something like your breathing (see above), can help clear the clutter (like that never-ending to-do list) from your mind. We love the Head Space app, but you don’t need an app to start practicing. Even setting aside just 5 minutes a day can make a big difference in how your body manages stress.
Find a Third Place. Consider your home and your work as your first two places. Unlike breathing and meditation, which you undertake on your own, your third place taps into the social nature of human beings. Find somewhere like a club or gym where you can connect and interact with other, like-minded people. Even an introvert receives a lot of positive social health from these types of interactions. Not having a third place can make a huge difference in stress management.
Move Your Body. We’re bringing it full circle with this one, but we honestly feel that movement is medicine. Not only does exercise release endorphins (and endorphins make you happy!), but even bouts of movement too short or too low in intensity to create that kind of physiological response are beneficial to the mind. Dance. Go for a run. Drop into an exercise class. Your body and your mind will feel better. Purposefully schedule time into your week to move your body and that movement will stimulate your brain in a way we all need more of.
Are you living your dream or still dreaming of living?
You have been blessed with an amazing body that is capable of so much. If you’re anything like most of the people we work with, you want more out of life and love being physically active. Making small changes using the steps above can help you on that path, but don’t try to change everything all at once. Big changes are hard to maintain and lasting change requires consistency. So, simply pick one or two areas and work your way forward from there. If you find you still want more help, give us a call!
Functionize Health & Physical Therapy
755 Commerce Drive, Suite 712
Decatur, GA 30030
5064 Nandina Lane, Suite C
Dunwoody, GA 30338