‘Stress’ tends to manifest itself in two ways in the body. We either have too much energy running around our system and feel ‘hyper’; with tense muscles, churning stomach and the inability to focus; or we feel a deep lack of energy, fatigued, withdrawn, and a lack of motivation.
Does this sound familiar? When dealing with the challenges of the past year you may have felt your own energy swing from one of the above examples to the other. Here are some suggestions of activities that will help to bring you back into that middle ground and feel more in balance
Our body is able to create a huge surge of energy to get us away from anything we consider threatening. In our daily lives, anxious thoughts trigger this same response, and while this energy remains circulating in our body, it will be more difficult for our nervous system to be able to shift out of the stress response and into a state where we feel calm. One of the most effective ways to release this ‘excess’ energy is exercise. Any form of exercise will be beneficial, so do whatever is possible within your range of fitness and ability. If you have a health condition that means you are not able to exercise, or you don’t have the space at home, then TRE or Tension Releasing Exercise is an effective alternative. A technique created by Dr David Berceli, who first used it to help heal traumatised communities in countries affected by violence and war, it is a technique that is now taught in classes and on a one-to-one basis. Online teaching may now also be on offer.
There is a strong connection between the body, mind and breath. Learning to breathe well is one of the most powerful ways of revitalising your mind, body and emotions, and when practised regularly the benefits of breathing exercises are far reaching. They help rid the body of waste products, increase a sense of vitality, and calm the mind and emotions during stressful times. If you are interested in trying this for yourself ‘The Power of Breath’ by Swami Saradananda is an easy to follow and inspiring book with many different breathing exercises. Conscious use of the breath is practised in hatha yoga which is an excellent way to deepen your connection to your body and another way to build good breathing habits. For local yoga classes in person and online I highly recommend Yoga Crow.
The vagus nerve is part of our parasympathetic nervous system and a great regulator of our body. It helps shift our body out of ‘fight or flight’ and into a calm balanced state. We are not able to consciously control the vagus but there are many activities that influence it indirectly. Breathing exercises mentioned above are one way and here are some more simple ones you can try;
Our digestive system has around 100 million neurons, which is why it is sometimes known as our ‘second brain’. Our gut does a lot more than just digest our food, it supports our immune system, reduces inflammation in the body and most relevant here, influences our mood and how anxious we feel. It does this by working very closely with our brain and our gut bacteria or gut microbiota. Our gut and the bacteria in it are able to produce natural mood regulating substances such a serotonin and dopamine. As you can see, having a healthy and diverse microbiome supports our overall health so if you are interested in learning more about the gut microbiome, Viola Sampson is a reliable source of information on this topic.
Full Body Presence
If you are lacking in energy, feel empty, or physically numb; or if you are recovering from an illness and have post viral fatigue; it can be difficult to find the energy and motivation to do anything at all. If this is how you are feeling right now then guided visualisations and meditations can be helpful, as they only require you to listen and can be done sitting or lying down. Suzanne Scurlock Durana a craniosacral therapist based in the USA has created her own visualisation called ‘Full Body Presence’ that will help you feel more energised and connected to your body. This audio is not free but you can hear a similar shorter version on Suzanne’s website for a taster. If you have a history of trauma, please be cautious when doing exercises that focus on body sensation. Remember you are in complete control throughout and can stop the audio at any time. You may find it helps to lighten your focus if you are struggling but do not continue if you feel at all uncomfortable.