We all talk about stress in our lives, but what actually is “stress” and what does it do to our bodies? How can we be more aware and what can we do to help ourselves?
This blog offers an introduction to the topic of stress.
Our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is the important part of our nervous system which controls our vital bodily functions such as our heart beating and our breathing.
It is split into two divisions: Parasympathetic and Sympathetic. The two sides work in an integrated and complementary fashion. When one is stimulated the other one is suppressed.
When we face any type of stress, whether it’s fear, anxiety, danger or worry, our nervous system reacts in exactly the same way: it prepares to “fight or flight”. This is because it senses a threat and it works to keep us safe. So whether you are running across a road of speeding traffic, or whether you are anxious about a looming work deadline, the body will be reacting in exactly the same way.
The sympathetic division predominates. A release of adrenalin instructs the body to prepare for “fight or flight”.
Blood vessels supplying the heart, limbs, head and brain dilate enabling more blood and oxygen to reach these body parts in preparation for physical activity.
Blood pressure and heart rate rises, as does respiratory rate.
The brain and eyes are also on full alert, improving concentration and peripheral vision.
Sugar is released into the blood system for the anticipated need for additional energy. This happens in the liver.
In order to conserve energy, the blood vessels supplying the non-essential systems of the body constrict, suppressing the digestive and immune systems.
The stomach and small intestine become inhibited, delaying digestion, the onward movement of food, and the absorption of nutrients.
Once the perceived threat has gone, the body will revert back to normal and rebalance: homeostasis will be resumed.
But in our modern day life, the perceived threat might go on and on for days, weeks, months or even years. Anxiety and worries can take all sorts of forms, such as work/job worries, financial worries, health worries, deadlines, long working hours, relationships: the list is endless.
As you can imagine, the ability to relax will be difficult: the body being on constant high alert. Problems include difficulty sleeping, feeling run down, constantly catching colds and viruses due to the suppressed immune system. Good nutrition will also be compromised with the suppressed digestive system, causing Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), diarrhoea, constipation etc.
It’s so important that we get a balance in our lives: time for work and time to rest/relax. We need time to allow the parasympathetic nervous system to predominate, and then allow the body time to rebalance.
This is where reflexology and other holistic therapies can be so beneficial. A regular session booked into the diary will break the constant stress cycle, and give you and your body an hour to lie back and relax: me time.
Reflexology, in particular, can be very beneficial in providing profound relaxation because of the high concentration of nerve endings in the feet: the feet are great access points for the whole body.
Jackie Marsden MAR is a qualified reflexologist and independent consultant (Team Leader) for Neal’s Yard Remedies Organic. Jackie leads and mentors a growing team of consultants (many of whom are therapists integrating organic products into their existing businesses) via the NYRO social selling channel, holding regular team meetings, one-to-one coaching via phone and facetime, and a closed facebook group. All views are my own.
Image courtesy of Master isolated images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net