We all know what stress feels like, and most people have heard of the body’s survival system, known as the sympathetic nervous system, or “fight, flight, freeze”. This is turned on when we are stressed, anxious feel under threat, and happens automatically without us having to do anything about it. But many people aren’t aware that there’s a counterpoint to this, the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as rest and digest and this sometimes take a conscious effort to switch on, particularly if we are on the go all the time.
We cannot eliminate stress altogether in our lives, and we would not really want to, as at times it can be useful. However, we can do something to help us manage it better. Learning to switch on the rest and digest system is an important part of any stress management strategy.
Here are some tried and tested ways to turn on the parasympathetic nervous system. Some of them might not appeal, and it is not one size fits all, but why not try a few out and see which ones give you that sense of calm, and letting go:
- Deep belly breathing: why not have a go at this short guided belly breathing exercise to help you slow and deepen the breath
- Get out in nature: Nature can be very calming, lowering blood pressure and lifting our mood. If you have not got any greenery close by even looking at a calming natural scene such as a photo, or perhaps a gentle nature documentary might do the trick. You can find out more about nature and mental health here.
- Try a relaxation – this muscle relaxation can be a great way to relax the muscles and calm the mind at the end of a long day. Why not try it before bed?
- Meditation – learning a skill like meditation can help you become less reactive to stress, and better able to manage the peaks and troughs of life. This short check-in meditation is a good way to take a break in the day, and give you a chance to see what’s going on in body and mind.
- Stroking your pet (or find someone else’s to stroke!)
- Focusing on your senses – finding a nice smell that makes you feel calm, or listening to birdsong can help you slow down and shift the focus away from a busy brain that might be making stress worse. Why not try this short senses meditation from Mindful March.
- Colouring, knitting or crafting: Many participants on Manchester Mind’s Building a Healthy Future course tell us that crafting, colouring, or knitting helps calm them down, giving them something to focus on.
- Lots of participants on our training courses tell us how therapeutic gardening can be, and it’s definitely a great stress reliever. Find out more about social and therapeutic gardening sessions for residents of Manchester.
Access our Anxiety Toolkit for more tips to better manage stress.