Understanding and Balancing Your Stress

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If you're anything like me, you've spent a lifetime being hard on yourself for feeling so stressed out by day-to-day life, asking yourself, why is this so hard for me? Why does everyone else seem to be handling this better? What am I doing wrong?

I'm a highly sensitive person who’s gone through some trauma in life (we all have, it's a blessing and curse of being human), so I feel stress very intensely. I didn’t want to continue to be at the mercy of my stress, so I educated myself and learned the cycle of stress on a biological level. I now understand the science of how and why my stress response goes up, which empowers me with knowing how to bring my stress response back down. 

THE SCIENCE OF STRESS

The purpose for our stress response thousands of years ago when we were hunters and gatherers living in the wild, was to alert us of life threatening danger- like being chased by a lion. Our heart rate increased to pump blood faster to our muscles, which tensed up readying us to flee or fight. Our pupils dilated. Our breath became short and fast. Our adrenaline, cortisol and even anti-histamine levels increased. Our digestion shut down (because who needs to worry about that when running from a lion?). After escaping the situation, all of these elevated levels in our bodies took time to settle back to their baseline.  

Thankfully today most of us don't come into frequent contact with lions. Our stress response, however, has not evolved and adapted as rapidly as modern life has. When we get an email with an impending deadline or become overstimulated by a plethora of news bombarding us on our Facebook feed, that exact same stress response kicks in. Biologically, we're don't differentiate between those kinds of stresses and the lion. 

THE PRACTICE OF RELAXATION

Because our modern lifestyle presents us with these types of "little" stressors multiple times a day, every day, our stress response never has time to reset to its baseline before becoming activated again. Over time, the baseline keeps getting nudged a little bit higher, and we’re left to constantly function from a place of stress in mind, body, and soul. That increase in baseline has been linked to everything from heart disease, insomnia, anxiety and even potentially food allergies.

Even though our stress response is an automatic reaction, our opposite relaxation response is not automatic. Instead, relaxation is something we have to manually activate through things like meditation or watching a funny movie or getting a hug from a loved one.

Let's try an exercise.

I want you to think about your day, and how much stress you're receiving versus how much relaxation you're practicing. To do this, create two columns on a piece of paper: title one of them Stressors and the second one Relaxation. Be sure to list even the smallest stressors of each day--even those things you don’t usually think about like that phone call you keep forgetting to make! In the second column, make a list of the self-care practices you do on a daily or weekly basis to activate your relaxation response.

Which list is longer?

If you're feeling exhausted/sick/depressed/stuck/etc. or wonder why your body is constantly craving rest, you're not alone. Instead of pushing yourself harder or feeling ashamed, aim to balance the columns; in other words, give yourself as much relaxation as the amount of stress you allow.

When we understand the science behind our stress, we realize that self-care is not a luxury, but a necessity for health and well-being. 

How would greater balance between these two columns bring you ease in your daily life, relationships, or career?

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Smoothie Bowl... Where have you been all my life?

 

Current Obsessions

Smoothie bowls have been around for years, but I must admit I was super late to the party. Ever since discovering how easy they are to make at home, I love making one for myself every morning. Seriously, some mornings it's what gets me out of bed. Once you've got the smoothie base down, the fun part is playing with all the different possible topping combinations. It's almost like eating ice cream for breakfast. Here is my favorite base with some of my go-to topping suggestions:
 

Smoothie Bowl
 


Base:

Handful of fresh kale torn into pieces
AND/OR
1/3 cup frozen chopped spinach
1/2 frozen banana (break into several pieces before you freeze)
4-5 frozen strawberries
1/3 cup frozen blueberries
1 spoonful sunflower seed butter
2 spoonfuls chocolate hemp protein powder
1/2-1 cup coconut water

Toppings:

Sliced bananas, strawberries, blueberries, sliced almonds, chia seeds, shredded coconut, goji berries, sunflower seed butter

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One Pose—Three Ways

Slowing Down With Child's Pose

*The post was originally published on YogaCity NYC

YogaCity NYC: What pose did you chose and why do you like it?

Allison Richard: I chose child's pose because I love its versatility. With different variations, it's a pose you can relax and restore in, stretch and lengthen in, or use as a tool to gently work and learn the fundamental component parts of other poses. 

YCNYC: Describe the anatomy of the first pose and body parts engaged.

AR: The hips are releasing back towards the heels. (If the hips don't reach the heels, place a block or blanket beneath the hips to support them.) As the hips lengthen back, the side waist and ribs lengthen forward creating space in the spine and entire torso. The shoulder blades draw down the back to create space for the neck. The arms are engaged with the palms pressing into the mat. The forearms, elbows and upper arms are firming away from the floor with the head hanging between the upper arms, similar to downdog. 

YCNYC: What body parts are engaged in the second pose?

AR: In the twisted variation, the extended arm is still engaged as it was in the previous pose as the other arm threads underneath. The core is engaged to help protect the lower back and the obliques are working to help rotate the torso so that the top ribs roll up towards the ceiling and the bottom ribs roll down towards the mat. The palm of the extended arm is gently pressing into the floor to help encourage rotation in the upper thoracic spine between the shoulder blades. 

YCNYC: What is the overall effect of the third pose on the body, and what does this one add to the understanding of the pose [and mind]. 

AR: This restorative variation resting the head on the block (specifically the point on the forehead slightly above the third eye closer to the hairline) has a calming effect on the nervous system and the mind. On a physical level, it allows for a release of tension in the shoulders, neck and base of the skull. For both of those reasons it can be great at easing headaches!

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