Did you know that the first Wednesday of November is National Stress Awareness Day? Stress is a normal reaction to changes and challenges in life. It serves as a tool to help you adapt to new situations, protect yourself, and move to action. However, if your body is chronically stressed and unable to unwind, it can manifest into health issues down the road.
I often see the effects of stress on my patients’ gut health. Your gut is like a second brain — it houses a complex enteric nervous system that communicates with your central nervous system through the vagus nerve, neurotransmitters, and its microbiome. Because of this cross communication, heightened stress levels can disrupt digestion, causing symptoms such as cramping, nausea, or indigestion, and can even exacerbate existing gastrointestinal disorders like SIBO, IBS, or Crohn’s Disease.
Whether you’re feeling the pressure of work-related deadlines, navigating the hustle and bustle of holiday festivities, processing current events, or simply experiencing that daily grind, here are some of my favorite, effective strategies for navigating seasons of stress so you can rest, digest, and live life fully.
Tip #1: Diaphragmatic Breathing
Deep Breath In, Deep Breath Out.
Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing, is a deep breathing technique that emphasizes using your abdominal muscles to inhale and exhale. Focusing on your breath can be meditative for your mind, and activating the diaphragm encourages your body to relax via the parasympathetic system.
The best part about this strategy? You don’t need a fancy yoga mat to make it happen. You can do it anytime, and anywhere. Here’s how:
- Sit or lie in a comfortable place. Close your eyes.
- Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your abdomen. As you breathe, the hand on your abdomen should slightly move, while the one on your chest remains fairly still.
- Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, and notice your abdomen expand.
- Hold your breath for 2 seconds. Then exhale very slowly and steadily through your mouth.
- Repeat for 5-15 minutes.
Tip #2: Apply Hydrotherapy
Relieve Stress with Hot N' Cold Exposure
Hydrotherapy is one of our best kept secrets for restoring health. Hydrotherapy uses cold or warm water to relieve physical pain, promote healing, and decrease mental stress. Alternating hot and cold temperatures encourages the body to pump blood, deliver oxygen and nutrients effectively, and release carbon dioxide, lactic acid, and other waste products.
This technique has gained some attention recently, thanks to the Wim Hof Method, where individuals plunge themselves into ice baths and concentrate on controlled deep breathing to increase oxygen, connect to their body in the present moment, and regulate their stress response.
However, if you’re not quite up for the plunge, you can still introduce hydrotherapy into your day through a brisk cold shower, washing your face with cold water, or immersing your hands or feet into a bucket of cold water. At ISAIH Natural Medicine, our hydrotherapy treatment involves wrapping the body in a wool blanket, and alternating hot and cold towels to activate your body’s rest and digest mode!
Tip #3: Grounding
Bring It Back Down To Earth.
Grounding is a technique that uses the five senses — sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch — to anchor you in the present moment. It can be especially helpful if you tend to stress about future events, hypothetical scenarios, or things that are out of our control, because it focuses on identifying concrete feelings in your immediate surroundings.
Grounding can be as easy as picking one sense, and honing in on it:
Smell: Savor a nearby scent. Perhaps it’s your favorite soap or candle, a flower, herb, or spice. Inhale the fragrance slowly and deeply, and try to note its qualities… How does it smell? Sweet? Spicy? Citrusy?
Hearing: Take a seat comfortably, wherever you are. Close your eyes and tune your ears to the sounds around you. Consider the hum of your air conditioning, the birds outside, or the coffee pot. What sounds are the loudest? What do you hear off in the distance?
Taste: Reach for your favorite (gut-friendly) food or drink! Take small bites or sips, and allow yourself to fully taste each bite. Let your mind ponder how it tastes and smells, and consider the flavors that linger on your tongue.
Touch: Pick up or touch items that are near you, and examine the texture of each item. You can also do this with your eyes closed, to really focus on what your fingertips are experiencing. How does it feel? Soft? Rugged? Smooth?
Tip #4: Spend Time in Nature
Go Touch Some Grass.
Sometimes a simple change in your surroundings can be the best stress relief. Research suggests that being in nature can significantly reduce your cortisol levels and improve your mood.
So take a 10 minute break to sit outside and bask in the sun! Go for a brisk walk and listen to the wind blow through the leaves on the trees. And if going outside isn’t an option, you can perch yourself by a window at work, or create your own stress-relieving green space by caring for a houseplant at home.
No Need to Stress. We've Got You!
It’s easy to get swept up in the stressors of life. In those moments, breaking it down into manageable steps is crucial. Take just 5 minutes to focus on your breathing or ground yourself in your immediate environment. A brisk walk can also provide a refreshing change of scenery. These small yet mighty actions can help you redirect your mental energy towards what truly matters.
Lastly, if stress is affecting your gut and getting in the way of your ability to live your life, let’s do something about it! Take the first step today and schedule an appointment with our team. Together, we’ll take it day-by-day, implementing personalized strategies to manage stressors, heal your gut, and support a healthy, vibrant lifestyle.