How to Relieve Stress - and Why We Need To
Stress, overwhelm and uncertainty has a way of getting stuck in our bodies - creating tension, anxiety and emotional numbness. In times of global uncertainty, this is something we all to some degree get a taste of. In this blog, we'll have a look at some of the strategies to relieve pent-up stress, and find back to mental and physiological equilibrium.
Stress, Health and the Menstrual Cycle
Since this, after all, is a reproductive health website - we'll start by looking a bit on how stress affects the menstrual cycle. Simply explained: when we are under a lot of stress, the body doesn't think that it's a great time to potentially achieve a pregnancy. And as a result, it will down-regulate the amount of sex hormones being produced in the ovaries, and the quality of ovulation.
In addition, it shouldn't come as a huge surprise that beyond affecting our reproductive hormones, stress also has a huge impact on our immune system and whole-body health.
Strategies for Releasing Stress
Another aspect of stress and overwhelm, is that it has a tendency to block us from seeing the very creative solutions that could potentially help us deal with difficult circumstances (caused by, for example, major societal changes rippling out from a pandemic). This can create a vicious loop, where the stress becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The good news is that our bodies has inbuilt release mechanisms, designed to get us through periods of extreme stress.
The last weeks, in the light of the ongoing pandemic, I’ve felt a growing need to actively engage in strategies that allow my body to access this inbuilt mechanism - preferably several times a day. In order to keep myself afloat. And since we're all in this together, I felt like sharing some of my favorite strategies with you:
Grounding Grounding is the practice of bringing oneself back to the present moment - in a very physical and tangible way. Examples of how this can be achieved is by: • firmly touching ones own body. • feeling the pull of gravity, which is constantly embracing the body towards the Earth. • pressing the feet to the ground, and feeling their solid contact with the floor/Earth beneath. • feeling the texture of the materials that you are touching or wearing. • attentively observing things in your nearby environment - how does it look like? What colors can you see? • mindfulness meditation. The intention with grounding is to bring oneself back into the sense of being here and now - truly entering one’s body and the present moment. Because the fact is, that the situation as painted out by our stressed and overwhelmed minds, usually looks far worse than what is actually true in the "here and now". Being grounded is the prerequisite for all other stress relief to be beneficial and effective - and sometimes relief enough in itself. In periods of high stress or overwhelm, it is something we will benefit from doing as often as possible - if so only for a brief moment.
Shaking Our bodies are hijacked to release overwhelm and stress through the simple act of shaking! It is how nature does it, as seen in research by for example Peter Levine. Letting the whole body shake/tremble helps to reset the nervous system, and brings us back into a state of presence, goodness and grounding. We can achieve this shaking by just letting it arise naturally (something that often happens while feeling a lot of emotions, or while practicing yoga or other body work), by shaking in the form of intense dancing (put on your favorite music and rock!) or trying out a technique like TRE (Trauma Release Exercises). Remember to preform the grounding exercises above both before and after your preferred method of shaking - since this will ensure that your body feels safe and held while releasing stress.
Crying or Laughing Letting our emotions flow and overflow is another of the body’s most effective ways of releasing stress and overwhelm. Most people have probably experienced how a good cry can make us feel renewed. And there seems to be a very physiological explanation to that: emotional tears actually contain a very high concentration of stress hormones - meaning that it’s an actual physiological way for the body to “clean out” excess stress. But emotions doesn't necessarily need to come out as tears, sometimes it also comes out as laughter. And uninhibited laughter also have a tremendous positive effect in lowering our stress hormones. Perhaps you’ve noticed yourself how close those two expressions of emotions actually are, and how they can even float in and out of each other? It seems like the most important thing here is to let the emotions out - to let them flow instead of getting stuck. And by that - leaving more space for life to come in. And, also before and after a good crying session, it can be a good idea to practice the techniques for grounding mentioned above - to make sure you are feeling safe, held and present in the here and now while releasing emotions.
So, as you might have come to see, stress relief is all about letting out pent-up emotions. Cry, laugh, shake or dance - or all at once! Whatever comes most natural to you. And in between, remember to practice grounding - so that your body is constantly reminded of that it is strong, capable, present and safe.
If you want some more self care strategies for stressful times, you can check out my last blog post.
Wishing you all the very best.