Magdalen Health and Wellbeing

Manage stress better

August 2, 2022

Modern medicine has come to appreciate the close relationship between mind and body. Your immune system is intrinsically linked to your stress levels…the higher your stress levels, the lower your immune function. This increases your susceptibility to colds and viruses, like Covid-19!
Manage Stress

Your brain and immune system are in constant communication with one another, which means that emotional/psychological upsets (stress) result in physical symptoms.
The stress response has also been given the term “fight or flight” response. Its is the normal biochemical reaction our body has when it feels threat to its survival. Historically, this might mean a caveman having to run away from a lion, however in todays modern world this response is constantly provoked by seemingly less dangerous events such as money issues, job worries and relationship problems…however these day-to-day woes are often percieved by our brains as equally as life threatening as a lion…if I’m late to work I’ll lose my job, if I lose my job I have no income, how will I pay my bills with no income, how will I afford my mortgage and pay for food…our brain leaps straight to survival mode at the threat to food and shelter.

This “fight of flight” response is all about immediate survival by getting away from danger as quickly as possibly. To aid in this we need as much oxygen as possible to get to our muscles so we can run away quickly and for longer. Our body does this by increasing our breathing rate, heart rate and blood pressure to transport oxygen from the lungs to the muscles more quickly, also the muscles that attach the top of or rib cage to our necks get tight. This is to lift our rib cage up to create more lung volume so we can take in more oxygen when we breath. This explains why we get such tight muscles across our neck and shoulders when we experince prolonged stress.

When our body is not in “fight of flight”mode, it is in “rest and digest” mode, or the relaxation response. This is the mode we want to be in most of the time. Our body is not worried about immenent danger, but its working on long term survival…making sure it absorbs enough nutrients from our diet, our immune system working at it’s best to get all tissue healing done. Two very important processes which go straight out the window when “fight or flight” kicks in…digesting food and defending against bacteria/viruses are the least of your worries when you’re running away from a lion! This is why we often get digestive issues when we are stressed, and why our immune system functions at a lower level…they not deemed important processes at the time of danger.

How to swtich off the stress response:

Several techniques can help you switch from “fight or flight”to “rest and digest” mode, which will get your immune system working at its best. You may want to try different techniques to see which works best for you. There are hundreds of youtube videos online that you can use to help (I have put links to examples). If you can’t relax to the sound of their voice, or are annoyed by twinkley music in the background etc, find another video…there really are hundreds to chose from! Also over the coming weeks our practitioners will also be posting videos addressing some of these specific areas.

  • The easiest one to conciously control is your breathing. By focusing on slowing your breathing rate you trick your body into “rest and digest” mode.
  • Gentle stretching, especially of the neck and shoulder muscles, can help convice your body that you do not need to be a coiled spring ready for action, or gathering great big lungfuls of air.
  • mindfulnes/meditation/counselling can help you look at some of the issues that might be causing your stress response and change how you look at the situation so it becomes less of a threat to you. There is a lot of help available online and by telephone at the moment if you need to speak to someone…and let’s face it, stress during a pandemic is a normal response!
  • PRACTISING RELAXING! Conciously relaxing muscles is one of the hardest things to do but one of the most effective. Most of my clients will recognise this one! Don’t try too hard/force it as this will make you tense up. Personally, I find it helps if someone talks me through it. You can try guided imagery or progressive muscle relaxtion via youtube.
  • EXERCISE! You can also trick your body into thinking it has taken the appropriate action to avoid danger. It needs to go through the motions of the “fight or flight”response, so do what it’s trying to enable you to do…get your heart pumping and your breathing rate up…go and run (cycle, fast walk!) away from the threat…or fight it (punch bag?!). Making your body think it has sucessfully avoided danger will get it into the “rest and digest” zone. (More on exercise in later blog).