Discover how to switch from stress to relaxation in just one minute

How to turn of stress in just one minute

Annemie leaving the ice-bath

This weekend I participated in my first Iceman workshop. If you experience stress in your life, this article is for you. Stepping into an bath full of ice triggers a stress response!

Stress can take a heavy toll on your health. We are not designed to live under chronic stress. Just like a zebra is not born to be chased day and night by a lion, just once in a while.

We are the same. We thrive with temporary acute stress like a deadline for a project or exam, catching a bus, an argument with your partner, a mistake at work, etc. This is actually good for us. Our bodies are designed for drive and recovery. Our brain and body need training to respond well for future stress situations.

Polyvagal theory

Our health is a reflection of our autonomic nervous system (ANS). Physiologist Stephen Porges, Ph.D. formulated the POLYVAGAL THEORY.
Our ANS consists of three branches (and not two as they always teach you).

1. THE SYMPATHETIC BRANCH

  • It supports our body to move, act and exercise.
  • In case of danger, it will activate the fight and flight response.

2. THE DORSAL VAGAL BRANCH (of the parasympathetic branch)

  • It supports the rest, digest and recuperation.
  • It is already functional in the womb and responsible for the freeze reaction.
  • Little babies cannot defend themselves by running or fighting in the event of danger. (Wildlife is a wonderful example of this.)

If your body slows down, whether it is a low blood pressure, digestion, unrelenting fatigue, depression, … think dorsal freeze. Our body give hints, we just have to listen to it.

3. THE SOCIAL NERVOUS SYSTEM (This is the other branch of our parasympathetic nervous system). This is all about connection and communication.

  • Babies and parents bond from the start.
  • Humans take care of other living creatures for a long time.
  • Communication and connection is an energy-efficient form of survival and protection.

With this information you can observe whether  or not your nervous system is working optimally. Maybe you’re anxious for no reason, is your heart pounding when startled, do you have difficulty falling asleep, do you feel tired and wired, …

How does our body react to an emergency or ACUTE STRESS? (Like stepping into an ice bath)

  • The sympathetic nervous system branch takes control of your system.
  • Osteocalcin, adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol flood the body and give you an energy boost.*
  • Adrenaline boosts glucose production and is used to give you energy. High intensity sport does the same!
  • Your energy stores are depleted from glucose and fat. If it takes too long, you feel drained and exhausted.
  • Your immune system becomes suppressed in anticipation of a fight. Let this one sink in!
  • Your heart rate goes up.
  • You’ll go into chest breathing to take in more oxygen.
  • This will tense the muscles in your shoulders and neck. That explains the stiff neck once in a while!
  • Your blood will flow to your extremities like legs and arms, to run and be strong. Zebras need to run now!
  • You are unable to digest and assimilate your food at this time. Eating a veggie salad in between 2 stressful meetings isn’t the best idea. You need to relax first. How? Keep on reading!
  • You might not be able to think rationally but emotionally and less logical. Your primitive brain gets in control. The activity of the more developed frontal lobe where decisions are taken, decreases. Did I say you have trouble concentrating?

Three types of reactions can happen:

Fight – Flight – Freeze

  1. Fight: These people stay calm. They will assess the situation, make a plan and act accordingly.
  2. Flight: Most people are overwhelmed and unable to think clearly. They will fall back in reflexive or automatic behavior. That’s where regular fire drills come in handy.
  3. Freeze: a minority of people of people will be showing counter-effective behavior that can actually make things worse. Anxiety and panicking is typical for a freeze reaction.

How do we switch our autonomous nervous system from a Fight-Flight-Freeze reaction to a safe Rest and Digest modus?

We can train ourselves to switch our body from a Fight-Flight-Freeze reaction to a safe Rest and Digest modus. This is a wonderful and very efficient exercise to reset your nervous system into the safe mode when you are :

  • getting your kids ready for school in the morning
  • getting back to sleep at night
  • irritated by the snoring of your loved one
  • stuck in the traffic jam
  • stressed at work
  • flying in between different timezones
  • running to your next appointment
  • having lunch

How do I train my nervous system to reset in the safe mode?

The die-hards step into an ice bath to trigger an acute stress response and focus on their breathing to calm down.

You don’t need to step into an ice bath to trigger an acute stress response. You can have a cold shower in the morning and learn how to control your breathing. Taking a cold shower will train your nervous system to reset in the safe mode. This is a perfect exercise to kickstart the day and feel relaxed and energized at the same time.

During the day, whenever stress accumulates, take a short break and just focus on your breathing. Or you can set your timer every hour and do some focused breathing for 2 minutes.

  •  If you are hyperventilating, you can hold your breath for 15 seconds.  Inhale, exhale and hold your breath again 15 seconds.
  • If you are not hyperventilating, you can belly breath slowly 10 times. Inhale count till 4, hold 2 and exhale 8 counts.

Why is it important to train our nervous system to reset in the safe mode?

When stress happens too often, it becomes EPISODIC ACUTE STRESS.

Behavior can reflect when people undergo frequent stress situations. They’ll become irritable, short tempered, anxious. You’ll see this kind of behavior in traffic. They tend to take on more work than they can handle and physical symptoms start to appear. Stressed people are often focused on the negative first. Unless their life circumstances change, they won’t change their outlook on life easily. Professional help is often needed.

Physical symptoms are:

  • Migraine
  • Hypertension
  • Heart disease

CHRONIC STRESS appears when situations in life take a heavy toll on our wellbeing. Chronic stress is a pathway to chronic disease or burnout (or worse a nervous breakdown). The nervous system will not be able to switch into the rest and digest mode when danger has passed. Metabolic changes start to appear. The chronic release of catabolic hormones will wear and tear your body. You become prone to chronic illness and you’ll age more quickly. 

Outside factors:

  • Too much responsibility in your job
  • A dysfunctional family
  • Being bullied
  • Divorce
  • Chronic illness
  • Poverty
  • Taking care of a family member
  • Traumatic event(s)

Internal factors:

  • Fear and uncertainty – Can I pay the bills? 
  • Attitudes and perception – I feel like an imposter.
  • Unrealistic expectations – Perfectionism is the ultimate form of procrastination. 

People can be more resilient to chronic stress even when confronted with trauma and life’s inevitable challenges. How? We need support and connection. Our nervous system is designed to recover when we are surrounded by highly available supportive, safe and nurturing peopleWe need time to be able to resource ourselves. Don’t forget to hug your loved ones and friends when you come home tonight! And practice to breath consciously to tell your brain you are safe. More tips to come in our coming newsletters! 

There are lots of comfort foods that can make you feel better when stressed. But let’s be honest with ourselves, not all of them are good for us. There have never been depressed, anxious and unmotived people since World War II. Unsurprisingly these ailments often go together with irritable bowel syndrome and asthma. Our bowels and lungs are the separation between the inside of our bodies and the outside world. After 1944 lots of changes have happened in our food chain. Fluoride has been added to water, animal fats were demonized and replaced with vegetable oils of corn, soy and canola. Meat and eggs were replaced with carbohydrates from refined grains and soy.

Our nutrient-rich and dense food in animal fats that fed our brain and kept mental illness at bay was replaced by sugars and vegetable oils. Let’s face it, comfort foods like cookies and chips are just cheating our brain. Taking in more sugar and unhealthy fat will make us crave more and in the end, leave us feel guilty and sick. They kill our motivation and feed anxiety.

There are lots of nutrient rich foods which contain necessary minerals and vitamins to keep stress and anxiety at bay. What are those healthy comfort foods that are good for fighting off stress and lowering anxiety without taxing our health?

What does our body need to feel relaxed and calm?

It needs animal fats to start but there is more.

Animal fats

Fats provide energy to the body and the brain and are essential to absorb fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, and K. They are essential parts of the building membranes of the brain cells.

Did you know that 60% of the brain  is made up of fats? There are three kinds of fats required for a healthy mental status:

  1. Saturated fats: butter, coconut, tallow, fat from duck, geese, chicken, lard from pigs
  2. Monounsaturated fats: avocado, avocado oil, olives, olive oil, tree nuts, lamb, beef, wildlife, …
  3. Polyunsaturated fats: fish oil, salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines, nuts, seeds, leafy greens, oils of linseed/flax and walnut

What else does our brain need?

It needs minerals like magnesium and zinc, vitamin B’s, vitamin C, folate,

anti-oxidants, amino acids, probiotics and complex carbs.

Magnesium

It is about the most important mineral in our body. It is best known for its relaxing effect on muscles. A good indication of magnesium deficit, are tensed muscles or restless legs at night. Coffee and alcohol, cookies, pasta and pastries all lower magnesium as well as certain medications. 

Foods: dark chocolade, avocado, nuts, legumes, tofu, seeds, whole grains, fatty fish, bananas, leafy greans

Zinc

It is essential for a healthy skin but is a mood regulator as well. Our bodies don’t store zinc so we need our daily dosage to stay happy and relaxed.

Foods: Meat, shellfish (oysters!), legumes, seeds, nuts, dairy, eggs, whole grains

Vitamin B’s

They are essential for nerve functioning and healthy brain cells. They are natural painkillers and mood boosters.

Foods: whole grains, meat and fish, eggs, milk, cheese, legumes, seeds, nuts, dark, leafy vegetables

Vitamin C

Human beings cannot synthesize vitamin C and therefore we are obliged to eat our daily fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C abolishes the release of cortisol when stressed. Therefore it is an essential vitamin in stress management!

Foods: broccoli, cantaloupe, cauliflower, kale, kiwi, oranges, papaya, peppers, sweet potatoe, tomatoes, …

Folate 

“Without folate,” says Massachusetts psychiatrist Emily Deans, “you can’t send the signals for regeneration and repair in the brain, which is why one symptom of low folate is depression, and long-term lack of folate can cause dementia.”

We need folate to produce dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrin, all neurotransmitters that regulate our mood.

Foods: spinach, liver, asparagus, brussels sprouts, romain lettuce, dark green leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, peas, seafood, eggs, dairy, meat, poultry, …

Anti-oxidants

Each time we breath, oxidative stress is created. Anti-oxidants eliminate this excessive stress and toxic byproduct in our body. Oxidative stress in the brain appears to lead to psychological disturbances and nervous system impairments.

“Several studies have shown that there is a link between psychological stress and intracellular oxidative stress.”, according to Marie-Anne Milesi from Seppic, France. and “Researchers found that the supplement (an antioxidant) decreased the signs and symptoms of perceived stress and fatigue in healthy volunteers.” 

Foods: dark chocolate, pecans, all berries, artichokes, kale, …

Amino Acids, precursors of serotonin and dopamine

Research has shown that tryptophan, the sole precursor of serotonin, is an important factor in mood, cognition and behavior. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid and must be supplied by food. 95% of serotonin is found in the gastrointestinal tract. However we know today that our gut is our second brain, also called the enteric nervous system. This nervous system is not able to calculate or read but it can control your emotions. It suffices to have an irritated gut to trigger this enteric nervous system. This explains the connection between Irritable Bowel Disease and depression and anxiety. Dopamine, another mood booster, increases after ingestion of tryptophan. Without dopamine, we lose focus and tend to procrastinate.

Food: turkey and chicken

Pre- and probiotics

Our gut is colonised with trillions of healthy (and unhealthy) bacteria. The composition changes with your diet. While there is still much to research, gut bacteria affect the immune system, the HPA axis and as a consequence the circulating levels of cytokines. These will send signals via the nervus vagus – the longest nerve of our autonomous nervous system – to the brain. Pre- and probiotics feed these bacteria. 

Food: garlic, onion, leeks, apples, flaxseeds, seaweed, fermented food, yoghurt, kimchi, …

Complex carbs

they boost serotonin levels and give us a calming and soothing feeling. They are an ideal supply of long lasting energy that cut the envy to grab junk food that leave us feel worse after all. Steady blood sugar levels guard us of snacking and emotional rollercoasters.

Foods: whole wheat, brown and wild rice, potatoes, quinoa, legumes, corn

 

If you struggle with stress and don’t know where to start, we got you. Use this link to schedule a talk with me. Looking forward connecting with you soon.

 

 

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