So, at the start of the year I was thriving with my meditation practise - I'd sit on my pillow most days and revel in the silence. It was amazing, it served me well and I felt really grounded, It's absolutely my number one tip for de-stressing.
Unfortunately at the moment, it's just not a practise I've been able to jump into every day and rather than beat myself up, I've started to engage in other practises that feel more achievable, and that I can integrate into my days without too much interruption. I've also shared these tips with clients because I know all too well how hard it can at times be to get into solid healthy habits and asking them to whack on forty minutes of meditation can sometimes turn them right off the whole thing!
So before I share these tips - let's look at the importance of de-stressing, be it through meditation or the practises I talk about in my video. Here goes - when it comes to our nervous system, there are two main areas I like to talk about with clients, specifically in regards to their hormonal balance. These are their adrenal hormones and their nervous system - closely linked but each with their own physiological responses.
STRESS AND HORMONAL ISSUES FOR WOMEN
When we are in a state of stress- be it an acute issue like real life danger or perceived stress - a stressful day at work - we will activate our 'fight or flight' response. This is also known as our sympathetic nervous system. It's our 'get me the hell outta dodge' response. Our pupils dilate, our breath quickens in our chest (not our diaphragm - this is key to understand), blood drains from our vital organs and our digestion flatlines. These things happen to allow the body to focus all its attention on the challenge or stress directly in front of us (physically or metaphorically). The other really important thing to note here is that the female body will shut down reproductive function, or at the very least, postpone it, until it feels safe to allow the body to potentially bring another living being into the world. Need the facts? Here they are.
A 2002 peer reviewed study found that of a cohort of 446 incarcerated women, 33% reported menstrual irregularities and 9% had no period at all. These were correlated with stressors related to a parent history of alcoholism, childhood abuse, physical abuse and/or trauma.
A 2018 journal article published by Harvard Medical School among many others has cited a study that found 25% to 60% of infertile individuals report psychiatric symptoms and that their levels of anxiety and depression are significantly higher than in fertile controls. The journal also found that patients with one IVF treatment failure had significantly higher levels of anxiety, and patients with two IVF failures experienced more depression when compared with those without a history of treatment. So we can see that there is a sad and unfortunate cycle (much like the chicken and the egg) when we start to link IVF and stress.
A study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health and the University of Oxford supports the widespread belief that stress may reduce a woman's chance of becoming pregnant. The researchers showed that women who had higher levels of a substance called alpha-amylase were less likely to get pregnant than were women with lower levels of the substance. Alpha-amylase is secreted into saliva by the parotid gland, the largest of the salivary glands. Researchers have used this substance as a barometer of the body's response to physical or psychological stress. It is generally secreted when the nervous system produces catecholamines, compounds that initiate a type of stress response. So in a nutshell - elevated alpha-amylayse is often found in women struggling with fertility, meaning that stress and fertility are definitely linked.
STRESS AND THE MODERN WOMEN
So what does this look like for the modern woman today? Heartbreakingly, often it looks like infertility or menstrual irregularities. Why so? Many women are perceiving stress as far more sever than it needs to be. This is not at all to discount your stress and say it is not important, of course it is! BUT your body's biochemistry has not evolved at the rate that our world has - it does not know the difference between dopamine from a comment on Instagram and dopamine from a real life person. It ALSO doesn't know the difference between stress from a presentation and stress from a tiger. It's up to YOU to tell your body that you are safe and ok.
ARE YOU BURNING OUT YOUR ADRENALS?
The second factor that comes into play is your adrenal system. Your adrenals are small, triangular-shaped glands located on top of both kidneys. Adrenal glands produce hormones that help regulate your metabolism, immune system, blood pressure, response to stress and other essential functions. When you're in a state of stress as discussed above your adrenal glands respond by releasing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to help you get through this situation effectively. This is an amazing safety mechanisms in short term issues BUT if you are constantly in a state of stress your adrenals will simply run out of steam like a car running out of the last bit of emergency fuel You'll likely reach burnout and you'll FEEL it in your body. Each day feels like a drag, your mood is low, you may be carrying extra weight (cortisol is after all a fat storage hormone) and you'll be more susceptible to panic attacks, anxiety and depression.
THE GOOD NEWS
So I know this all sounds bleak but heres the good news! You can completely mediate this response with simple every day techniques to calm down your nervous system and avoid an acute adrenal response. So without further ado, here are my top 5 tips for de-stressing that aren't meditation:
Breathe deeply into your belly, allowing it to expand and contract. This activation of your diaphragm switches on the parasympathetic nervous system. Your body is able to acknowledge that you're calm enough to take deeeep breaths.
Create your own morning ritual that starts your day off in a calm state. It could be walking your dog, reading, journaling, having a cup of tea... or even a little bit of intimacy worth your partner. Whatever it it is, try and make it a daily part of your day. Remember, work should not define your life - you've got to find the beauty in the every day moments!
Exercise. This doesn't mean do a HIIT class if you're adrenally fatigued and trying to lose weight, this means finding exercise that energises and inspires you, raises endorphins and makes you feel good. It could be yoga, pilates, boxing, swimming, walking - whatever it is, do it for stress relief - not to add more stress to your day.
Turn off technology. The reason for this is two-fold. Number one; it's no secret that social media, never ending emails, whats app, Facebook messages, plus all the other noise on your phone/laptop/ iPad/smart watch is causing you anxiety and stress. You never get a second to yourself! Try making rules to integrate some quiet time for you (and your signifigant others). Look at things like no phone after 8, sleep with phones outside or on aeroplane mode, no phones at dinner, a specific 'switch off' time for work etc.
Part two of this is the physiological response that occurs when you're constantly attached to blue-light devices. This harps back to our Palaeolithic days (not that long ago in the grand scheme of evolution). We humans are suddenly over a fairly short period of evolution have begun to expose our bodies to an incredible amount of artificial light. We used to sleep and rise with the dun, now we stay up on our devices late in to the night and our hormones have no idea how to regulate. For many women struggling with fertility - this is the easiest place to start - get your body's circadium rhtymn back on track by activating "night mode" on your phones and laptops so your body is no longer kept awake.
Schedule in negotiable de-stress time. This is something in your calendar every week that is designed to do nothing but enhance joy and relaxation. It might look like a facial/massage/ float tank/sport/dance class/yoga. Whatever it is - it must sit in your diary like any other appointment. most importantly, if it has to move it doesn't get cancelled - it just gets rescheduled. Honour yourself, girl!
So there we have it, my top five tips for de-stressing that aren't meditation.
I hope these are super helpful for you! x
Pssst... before I leave you, did you know that the next round of Body Alignment Bootcamp is now open? The is an 8-Week all intensive program involving naturopathic consultations that helps you de-stress, fix gut issues, hormonal issues and fertility issues all while learning to love your body and eat intuitively for your heath needs. Check it our below: