Stress. It’s unavoidable. No matter your circumstances you are going to experience, and have to manage, some degree of stress in your life. But what is stress?
“Stress has many faces, and creeps into our lives from many directions. No matter what causes it, stress puts the body and the mind on edge. It floods the body with stress hormones. The heart pounds. Muscles tense. Breathing quickens. The stomach churns.
The body’s response to stress was honed in our prehistory. Collectively called the “fight-or-flight” response, it has helped humans survive threats like animal attacks, fires, floods, and conflict with other humans. Today, obvious dangers like those aren’t the main things that trigger the stress response. Any situation you perceive as threatening, or which requires you to adjust to a change, can set it off. And that can spell trouble.
Chronic stress can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease. It can dampen the immune system, increasing susceptibility to colds and other common infections. It can contribute to asthma, digestive disorders, cancer, and other health problems. New research even supports the notion that high levels of stress somehow speed up the aging process.
Though stress is inevitable, you can help control your body’s response to it. Exercise, meditation, invoking the relaxation response, and mindfulness are great stress busters.”
From the above, the point we’re most interested in is this: “Muscles tense.” What they are saying is that stress causes involuntary muscular tension. That’s a problem. This muscle tension happens subconsciously. We are not really aware of it. This muscle tension, as well as making us feel stressed, can lead to chronic muscle pain and stiffness.
When the body is stressed, muscles tense up. Muscle tension is almost a reflex reaction to stress… https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-body
This also leads to automatic activation of the SYMPATHETIC nervous system (‘fight or flight’ response). The physiological effects of activation of the SYMPATHETIC nervous system (SNS) include:
- ACCELERATED Heart Beat (anxiety anyone?)
- HIGH Blood Pressure (uh oh)
- INHIBITED digestion (hello belly ache)
- RELAXED Bladder up (I never used to make night time trips to the bathroom?)
- CONTRACTED Rectum (why am I constipated?)
- Secretion of STRESS HORMONES from the adrenal glands (I can’t shake this bad mood)
- SUPPRESSION of the immune system (why am I always sick?)
- REDUCED growth (suppression of growth hormones) (that little cut still hasn’t healed)
- SLEEP PROBLEMS (so tired all the time)
- MEMORY DYSFUNCTION (sorry, I totally forgot about your birthday)
Doesn’t sound like much fun does it?
Do any of these sound familiar to you? If so, you may be suffering from some degree of chronic stress and the chronic SNS activation that goes along with that. SNS mode is not necessarily a negative state, as indicated above it is necessary to respond to a threat/situation appropriately. The problem is when we find ourselves in a state of chronic SNS activation. As humans, we are well-equipped to deal with short periods of SNS activation, then ideally, when the perceived threat has ended, we would return to PARASYMPATHETIC Nervous System (PNS) activation. PNS is, or should be, our default mode (also known as ‘Rest, Digest and Repair’ mode).
PARASYMPATHETIC nervous system activation has the opposite effects to the Sympathetic Nervous System:
- SLOWER heart beat (feeling calm…)
- LOWER blood pressure (…and relaxed…)
- STIMULATION of digestion (…and well nourished)
- NORMALISED bladder function (no more getting up in the night)
- RELAXATION of rectum (regular as clockwork)
- INHIBITS secretion of STRESS HORMONES from the adrenal glands (happy mood, happy days)
- STIMULATION of the immune system (I can’t remember the last time I was sick)
- NORMALISED growth hormone responses (that cut has healed right up)
- DEEPER more restful sleep (Zzzzz..)
- NORMALISATION of memory functions (I planned a surpise for your birthday)
That all sounds much more conducive to feelings of relaxation right?
But how do we switch back to PNS mode, or ‘invoke the relaxation response’ when we are chronically stressed?
Well, if you could somehow release the involuntary muscular tension that is triggered in response to stress you could deliberately switch back to PARASYMPATHETIC nervous system mode. Somatic Movements provide us with a simple and straight forward way to do just that. They use a technique called pandiculation to reduce muscular tension (and reduce pain and improve movement, bonus!). Pandiculation works by re-establishing your voluntary control over your muscles and in the process, relaxing them. This leads to de-activation of the SYMPATHETIC nervous system (fight, flight or freeze mode) and activates the PARASYMPATHETIC nervous system (rest, digest and repair mode).
This makes Somatic Movements a simple and effective stress management tool. By learning how to monitor, regulate and control your own muscle tension you are learning how to monitor, regulate and control how you respond to stress. With practice you can become more resilient to the myriad effects of stress. You can literally learn how to relax, and activate your Parasympathetic Nervous System, any time, on demand. Becoming an expert at relaxing. Sceptical? Take less than 3 minutes and try a pandiculation right now by listening to the audio below;
The pandiculation technique utilised in the audio above can be applied to all the muscle groups in the body for total body relaxation. By deliberately releasing the muscle tension triggered by stress you can return to a state of relaxation and calm. When you are relaxed you can sleep better, when you sleep better you will feel more refreshed, when you are more refreshed, you can think more clearly, when you think more clearly you can make better decisions, when you make better decisions… well, who knows what good things might happen!
When stress is unavoidable, simple, effective stress management techniques become essential. So why not Learn Somatics? You’ve nothing to lose… except all that tension.
If you’re interested in learning how to use Somatics to release muscle tension and manage stress check out my Online Class offerings and 1-1 options here. Alternatively you can visit the Learn Somatics YouTube Channel and start learning today.
As always thanks for reading.