Modern life is demanding so much of us, putting consistent stress on our physical and mental states. And we all know stress is so detrimental to our health. Of course you’ve heard that everyone needs to reduce stress. But what does that mean in the context of our modern lives when stress is literally inescapable?
Rest When You Die?
You know you need to chill out more, but you’re training for a half marathon; the kids have sports practice; there’s a deadline at work and you can’t leave before 8 pm; your sister’s wedding is this weekend; the car needs new tires; and the list goes on and on. It’s enough to make you want to throw your hands up in frustration – reduce stress?! It’s a pipe dream you’ll maybe get to one day, in retirement, when you’re 70.
A New Paradigm: Forget Reducing and Start Restoring!
Instead of focusing on the impossible task of reducing stress, focus on restorative activities that negate the destructive impacts of stress on your health. Think of it as risk mitigation: we often can’t reduce the stress in our lives, but we CAN do a lot to manage its impact on our health.
This is accomplished through restorative activities (such as yoga, meditation, or massage). This is an area where you need to put focused attention. In our modern world, restorative activities are not a luxury. This shouldn’t be an afterthought, if you have time, after everything else.
You should consider these activities as important as the healthy meal plan you consistently follow, and as non-negotiable as your morning run or your time in the gym.
10 Restorative Activities for Stress Management
There are so many things you can do to as restorative activity. In general, think of things you actively do and not just laying on the couch watching Netflix. Most of us do plenty of sitting still already, even if we are under a lot of stress. Vegging out is not really restorative and carries its own health risks! Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Sleep–probably the number one thing you can do to improve your health in all areas is to get your sleep in order. If you aren’t sleeping deeply in a completely dark, cool room with no electronics, start there.
- Yoga– improves mobility, increases circulation; save the power yoga for gym day and choose routines where you move slowly and stretch deeply.
- Leave the City–most of us spend more time around bricks and mortar than we do trees and grass. Human beings are much more connected to an organic environment than man-made dead structures. Go for a stroll where the wifi is weak and see how you feel after!
- Massage– reduces tension, pain and anxiety; consider getting a regular massage as part of your regular self-care routine. Remember restorative activities aren’t just a luxury!
- Slow/Deep Breathing– improves circulation, increased oxygen delivery around the body, and relieves stress.
- Take a hot bath– reduces inflammation, calms the nervous system; add a cup of sea salt or Epsom salt for extra detoxification.
- Meditation– reduces stress and anxiety, and mitigates the physical symptoms of stress.
- Osteopathic Treatment– decreases tension and pain in the body; improves circulation and mobility.
- Myofascial release– increases blood flow and mobility; reduces pain and inflammation; flushes lymphatic fluid.
- Gentle movementlike a walk, swim, or biking where the heart rate stays low – circulates blood and lymphatic fluid without stressing the muscles or joints; improves mood.
How Does This Work?
Spending time doing these types of activities develops your capacity to function more effectively in our pressurized world. You can change your body’s physical and biochemical responses to stress so that it creates less hardship on your body and mind when it does occur.
It’s not just because relaxation feels good; there’s a real physiological mechanism at work here. When you incorporate restorative activities into your routine, you are training your nervous system to be more parasympathetic-dominant.
You might remember from high school biology that the parasympathetic nervous system controls rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation, whereas the sympathetic nervous system triggers the fight-or-flight response.
Because of the high stress environment we all live in today, most of us are in sympathetic nervous system dominance, acting from a place of fight-or-flight even when there aren’t any tigers to run from. When we spend more time activating the parasympathetic nervous system, we can move through our lives more calmly and efficiently, and experience less of a sympathetic stress response to our daily challenges.
You literally rewire your brain and nervous system so that it responds differently to stressors. How cool is that?!
Keep Your Health Account in the Green
Think of your health and vitality as a bank account. You make withdrawals in the form of all the things you ask your body to do in the course of life: exercise, being productive at your work, and caring for your family; as well as destructive things like staying up too late, eating too much of the wrong kinds of foods, or drinking too much. And you make deposits in the form of all the restorative activities you do to build your body back up, like sleeping, massage, and eating well.
You always want your health account to be in the green. The more deposits you make, the more energy and drive you’ll have to do all the amazing things you want to do in life. The more you balance your stress with restorative activities, the more you can be in command of how stress affects you.
You essentially achieve more free will to create the experience of life you want to have instead of being pushed around by the seemingly uncontrollable chaos of modern life. You’ll be able to stay vibrant and healthy instead of getting run down, sick, or sidelined by an injury!
Do you make time for restorative activities? What are some of your favorites? Please share in comments!