Finding Balance in Times of Stress

During this time of social distancing, many of us have been abruptly cut off from our regular health and wellness routines, the things that keep us healthy, and our stress at bay.

For many of us, having in-person socialization at work or with friends and family outside of work hours is what keeps us feeling happy and peaceful. Or, perhaps you attended a gym, yoga studio, engaged in other activities in public with groups of people? You may even have had your wellness regimen at home that has now halted due to the level of stress that has arisen and thrown you off course.

Whatever your situation, we currently find ourselves in an unprecedented time worldwide and it has left many of us wondering “how we can take care of ourselves when life, as we know it, has shifted?”

Although there are a lot of things that are out of our control at the moment, yoga is here to help take some control back. Simple yoga techniques can help you make big changes to your current experience. To get to the good stuff, we must first look at what is happening in our bodies right now so we can understand it better. When we understand the problem, we can be a part of the solution!

In times of stress, our sympathetic nervous system is activated. You may know it as our fight or flight response. It tells us there is danger imminent and it is time to run, face the danger head-on, or freeze.

To help us do this, adrenaline and cortisol, known as the stress hormone, are released to the muscles, brain, arms, and legs, where it can be most useful at the moment. You may feel your heart pounding, your breath quickening, your muscles tense. This is great if you come face-to-face with a bear on a walk through the woods or need to react quickly to avoid a car accident. You can respond to the situation and, a little while later, things come back down to normal in your system.

However, problems can arise when we are exposed to stressors for an extended period. Your body acts the same as it did in the momentary situation. Now what is happening is that your immune system is being altered and other systems in your body are being suppressed because your body’s energy and attention are elsewhere. This affects our digestion, elimination, blood pressure, and overall health. Things like the possibility of losing our job, illness, financial instability, all of which have come with the introduction of COVID-19, can cause these stresses. The stress response wants to take over and flood our system for hours, days, and weeks on end.

Yoga Can Help you Find Balance

The good news is, you can help your body return to a state of calm and help bring balance back to your system.

How do we do this? By activating the parasympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as the ‘rest and digest’ response. Engaging in activities such as deep, slow breathing and yoga can help you undo the work of fight or flight by reversing its effects. It slows down your breath and heart rate, sends the blood back to the digestive and elimination system, and lowers the production of the stress hormone so your body can relax and feel safe.

Let’s start with the breath, and specifically, breathing in a way where your exhale is longer than your inhale. Perhaps take a moment to practice this breathing when you notice:

  • Tension building up in your chest, neck, shoulders

  • Your heart is pounding, or heart rate has increased

  • You feel like you can’t take a deep breath, or your breath feels faster

There are countless ways you can relax your body and mind, the important thing to remember, is dedicating time for it.

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