The Impact of Stress and How to Rest Better

For most people, the days often feel very busy. Sometimes we can feel frazzled by the to-do lists that race through our minds, or feel nervous and on edge as we anticipate getting the next thing done. The stress of a typical day can activate our sympathetic nervous systems which can impact the body in a variety of ways, such as increasing epinephrine (contributing to physiological changes, like increased heart rate), cortisol (amping up stress reactions), and emotional intensity (like fear or anger). The sympathetic nervous system can also influence our executive control functioning and make things like organizing, goal-setting, and managing emotions challenging.

Ongoing activation of our sympathetic nervous systems from stress could have different impacts. For example, it may disrupt our sleep, contribute to or , or interfere with joy and happiness in daily life. Those could be some good reasons to slow it down, right? Our bodies even have the innate ability to restore balance by using the parasympathetic nervous system, sometimes referred to as the “rest and digest” system because of its ability to enhance relaxation and restore a resting state in the body. But as we often experience, slowing down to manage our stress, calm our bodies and minds, and rest can be challenging when the pressures of the day feel urgent.

What if we could become more intentional about embracing periods of rest?

What if we could become more intentional about calming ourselves and embracing periods of rest? If we could, we may experience benefits of rest such as an improved sense of calm, insight, and clarity. These benefits could contribute to more satisfactory relationships, stress management, and enjoyment in daily life.

There are many practices that can support activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, such as mindfulness, breathing exercises, and yoga. In addition to these types of practices, let’s consider some tips that may further support stress management and rest.

Catching Thoughts

What we think and believe about rest may be interfering with our ability to rest. Are your thoughts telling you that there is “no time” to rest? Perhaps you believe you ‘must’ finish the to-do list before you can rest. One could even feel undeserving of rest for various reasons. Yet, our minds and bodies need rest.

One approach is to check-in with what our thoughts are telling us. If we notice that the narrative of our thoughts are potentially standing in the way of slowing down to rest, there may be an opportunity for change. We could challenge those thoughts and practice replacing them with more balanced, helpful thoughts. For example, do we have no time to rest? Or, is it perhaps more likely that we do have a few minutes that could be spared? In these brief moments of rest, we could offer ourselves understanding and kindness that as busy human beings, rest is important and necessary.

Setting Boundaries

Do you ever find that being notified about every email and text message makes it hard to relax? Perhaps you notice that even when you’re trying to rest, you can’t help but check your phone. Or, maybe it is other people who make it hard to relax during your day through their requests for your time or energy. If we feel like periods of rest are being slighted by these types of things, boundaries could be helpful.

Boundaries may help create a firmer container for periods of rest by clearly marking off time, whether that is two minutes or a whole afternoon. If we become more protective of our resting time using boundaries, it has the potential to be of greater quality and we may benefit from the rest period more than if our rest is fragmented.

We could think of boundaries in this way – when you say “no” to someone or something (e.g., your phone), you’re saying “yes” to rest.

Sleep Hygiene

Sleep is an obvious path to rest, but how do we calm down after a stressful day to actually get to sleep? Maybe you have heard of sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene are habits that can help us sleep better. We could compare it to dental hygiene, which include habits that keep our teeth clean.

There are many practices of sleep hygiene. One area of practice that may be particularly helpful when we need to wind down from a stressful day is the importance of routine, because you are not alone if you can’t fall asleep right away after a busy day. We could consider developing a ‘sleep routine’ to help. This could include rituals that help prepare our minds and bodies for rest. For example, in the hour before we would like to sleep we could stop using our phones, take a hot shower, have a cup of tea, and prepare our environment for sleep (e.g., adjust the temperature, sound, and light to our preferences). We could think of a sleep routine as a period of transition from the busy day into our time for restoration.

Human beings are deserving of rest.

Let’s Grow

Rest provides us an opportunity to restore and reengage with our lives in a refreshed way. As always, if you would like support making meaningful changes in your life please reach out for a free 15-minute informational consultation. I want to support my clients on their journey.

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