Bek Nutter, one of our amazing Healthy Mummy wellness experts. In a recent podcast, she talks about the stresses in the modern world and why people feel they might not be able to cope. You can hear more about this topic in her podcast on the 3 Day Anxiety Program.
Living with stress can take a serious toll on your body and your mind.
While some types of stress can motivate us, living with constant tension can lead to various health issues. By understanding what’s happening in your body and mind, you can learn some simple coping methods to combat the stresses of everyday life.
Stresses in the modern world are all around us
Bek Nutter is a naturopath, performance nutritionist, clinical herbalist, breath coach and fitness trainer. She has a strong passion for educating and empowering people towards their health goals.
What’s more, Bek divides her time between clinical practice, facilitating breath and fitness groups and corporate wellness. Thankfully, she has shared her insights into some great ‘in the moment tools’ to cope with stress.
“I think we really demonise stress and put it in the box of, ‘it’s bad’, and we should never have stress in our bodies. We need to reframe that,” says Bek,
“Stress is normal, it’s essential for us and we need it. Stress is how our body prepares us for action. For us to step up and do something that challenges us, we need a little bit of stress.
“So, when we are learning something new or exercising, all of that is a stress on our body. We sometimes need stress to get stronger or better at things.”
In fact, Bek says the stresses we have today are very different from those experienced when we first evolved and were designed to achieve. If you think of your ‘caveman self’, i.e. what we were doing before modern society popped up, our lives were very different.
“People often think that the caveman way of living was very stressful, but actually, the stress would’ve only been experienced outside the cave, when hunting or do something with the tribe,” says Bek.
“Afterwards, we would’ve gone back to the cave and the stress would’ve subsided. These days, even our ‘cave,’ our house, is not stress free. We’ve got our phones and emails and we’re not able to turn off. That’s where stress becomes a problem. The reality is the body doesn’t know the difference between being chased by a lion or tiger or even your toddler!”
How your body changes when you feel stressed
This is when ‘good stress’ becomes ‘bad stress’ and we feel we can’t cope anymore, and it all seems a bit much. Not all stress feels good, sometimes if feels bad.
For Bek, she likes to analyse our body and brains to see what is happening when we feel that way. We can then understand what is happening and can it accept more readily.
“If someone jumps out and scares you, your body freaks out. This is your body doing that. Your body reacts before your mind has anything to do anything at all. It’s a reaction from nervous system that takes signals to your brain,” says Bek.
Flight and flight vs rest and digest
Within our bodies, we have the autonomic system – which is the part of the nervous system – and responsible for regulating involuntary body functions, such as heartbeat, blood flow, breathing, and digestion.
“There are two branches of this. I like to think about the red and green branch,” explains Bek. “The red branch is ‘fight or flight.’ The green branch is responsible for the ‘rest and digest’.
“If you are being chased by predator, the primal side of your brain is engaged, you don’t want to be thinking ‘should I be running on my toes?’ ‘should my knees be high or low?’ You just want to run, and you want to get out of there as fast as you can without any of those rational thoughts.”
This is why we shut down our rational brain when we feel stressed, and it may feel like we can’t think properly. In so many ways today, we are often feeling stressed all day, hence we can’t rationally think our way out of it. We are constantly in ‘fight or flight’ all day. We feel frazzled.
“It’s the instinct to run, but we aren’t doing that. Instead, we are sitting with those feelings in our body. If we’re in that state constantly, all the things that aren’t essential for our survival in that moment shut down,” says Bek.
“Your digestion goes yucky, you can’t go to toilet, or you go too much. Our hormones go out of whack, we feel irritable, our sleep may not be great. It’s not a good place to be.”
Bringing balance back
What we want to do is try and flex the green branch, the rest and digest side of our brains more often when we feel stressed. We want to be ‘on’, but we also need to be ‘off’ to get the balance back.
Often, we feel like we have all this energy in our body, as our red branch is activated, but rather than getting ready to run, we instead feel like our minds are agitated or moving fast.
“One of the best techniques, to get the body and mind working together is to get moving,” says Bek. “In the animal kingdom, when an animal has been attacked by a predator and survives, you can often see it shaking itself off when it’s out of danger. This is to get rid of all that excess energy.
“Humans don’t do that enough. We don’t move through that stress response. Moving physically through that feeling of stress can help us ride it better. If you feel stressed, try going for a walk, jump up and down or run on the spot.”
However, in reality there will be times when it’s not appropriate to move through that stress, e.g. you are in the office. What you can do instead is to do a simple breathing exercise.
Breathing technique to help you cope with stress:
- Breathe in through your nose, then out through your nose
- Then pinch the bottom of your nose, hold, then count for five seconds
- Then breathe in through your nose and then breathe normally again for a few moments
What’s happening here is that this breathing exercise will help your brain cells settle down a little and leave your feeling calmer. The breath hold allows you to release more oxygen into your brain, so it’s able to think more clearly.
“By changing the gas exchange within body, it’s caused your muscles to relax,” says Bek. “It forces your mind to pay attention. It brings you back in the moment and you feel present. If you are ever feeling triggered, just hold your breathe and your body will start to reset. It’s a good circuit breaker.
“The power of the breath is incredible.”
Quick recap on how we can learn to cope with stress:
- Not all stress is ‘bad’ for us but it’s important to ‘rest and digest’ after your feel stressed
- If you can’t exercise to work through the stress you are feeling, try breathing techniques
- Holding your breath for a few seconds can help your brain reset and leave you feeling calmer.