This month, we focused our blogs on the pillars of health that we cover with all patients—sleep, nutrition and stress. All of these play a major role in how you feel, how your body functions and the pain you may feel.
Our society is riddled with stress due to packed schedules, short attention spans and growing involvement of technology. It may seem simple, do less and stress less. But for many, there doesn’t seem to be TIME to do LESS.
When it comes to stress, it manifests in 2 major ways: MIND and BODY
Mind(n)- the element, part, substance,or process that reasons, thinks, feels, wills, perceives, judges, etc.
The mind is a powerful thing- particularly when it comes to how your body feels, reacts, copes, and heals. It is how we process the world around us. The environment in which our mind is processing will set us up for stress and anxiety or relaxation and control. When we are constantly in a stressed mindset, our nervous system ramps up the epinephrine. This is a hormone that elevates heart rate and blood pressure to enhance our awareness and prepare for an attack. You've probably heard of fight-or-flight. This is necessary for survival, but the problem is that every day we have this chronic increase in epinephrine due to stressful lives. Our bodies are staying in "fight or flight" mode for hours each day, even though we are simply sitting at desks or working a relatively low risk job. This leads to chronic fatigue, decrease immunity and various health issues.
What can you do to mitigate the effects?
For some, just deciding to put the time aside- in the morning, after work, etc- is enough for them to incorporate this in their day. Others might need a reminder or piece of accountability. Something that I suggest, at least to help you get started, is an app like Headspace. It gives you 10 minutes each day of guided meditation/relaxation. I learned that meditation & quiet time is not about just having a blank mind or taking a quick snooze, rather directing your mind to a different place, away from stress.
Try it for yourself. It might not sound like something you would enjoy or buy into, but you may be pleasantly surprised. I was!
Body (n)- the organized, physical substance of a human.
The body is what we, as physical therapists, are trained to treat and manage. However, the tissue- muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons- are all directed and supplied by the nerves. What makes this difficult, is that healing of the tissue can be slowed by a heightened neurological system. That is, chronic stress leading to poor immunity, heightened fight-or-flight hormones (epinephrine and cortisol), poor diet choices due to the stress, lack of sleep again due to stress... Do you see how this turns into a vicious cycle or sickness, weight gain and general un-wellness?
The easiest way to stop this in its tracks is to address stress immediately. We can mobilize, offer corrective exercises, dry needle, cup, manipulation, etc endlessly, but if we don't address the state of their neurological system, then we are doing this person a disservice. My two favorite drills for this will address tissues but also has an effect on relaxing the neurological system.
The diaphragm has a close relationship to the nervous system; breathing deeply can stimulate your vagus nerve. The vagus nerve functions to trigger the “rest and digest” hormones of the body- a.k.a the opposite of “fight or flight.” This will help keep the heart rate constant and controlled.
Don’t I breathe all day? What’s different?
We often take shallow breaths throughout the day, which also falls in line with “fight or flight.” It’s not often that folks stop and take a few deep breaths! Try these out and see how it feels:
All you need for this is a wall that you can put your feet on!
For this, we like to use a soft inflatable ball. The one Danny uses in the video is from The Roll Model, or go to Target and buy a $2 kids ball with Elsa or Spiderman on it!
Stress directly affects the results that you will see in the gym, sport, health, wellness, happiness, and so on. If you don’t have time every day for an hour workout, at least take about 10 minutes to breathe deeply and clear your mind. You will see a world of difference!
Thanks for reading,
Dr. Jackie, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS
Dr. Danny and Dr. Jackie's views on performance improvement, injury prevention and sometimes other random thoughts.