My professors might beg–or even demand–me to reconsider, but I’m taking some much-needed time for myself today. A little R & R, if you will. Time to put the para back into parasympathetic.
It might be easy for them to wag their fingers in disappointment, but then again, they didn’t have to sit through over 850 questions over the last 3 days, during which, right smack in the middle of it all, I got a nasty stomach flu virus for the first time in over 10 years. Ten freakin’ years without so much as a yoo-hoo to the porcelain god and the bug picks this weekend to make me an altar girl.
Over the years, I’ve found some pretty kick-ass ways to de-stress; the added bonus is that they don’t involve anything illegal, destructive, or dangerous. Before you get bummed and hit the “back” button on your Firefox window, however, gimme a chance. Some of these remedies work more than you might think, and even if my system isn’t totally up for all of them yet (particularly the incense), I’ll take part in what I can, and as for the rest, well, I’m definitely there in spirit.
Herbs. There are certain herbs that are particular effective for calming one down and lifting one’s spirits. No, I don’t mean the herb they pay homage to via ASCII Art in nerd-based chat rooms. I mean stuff you can even get at Whole Foods, like kava kava. Kava kava has been alleged to put some extra stress on the kidneys (although probably no more so than excess dietary protein), so just make sure you drink plenty of water and that you’re not on dialysis or anything. Valerian Root is pretty groovy, too. Its smell is among the worst on the planet, but somehow this is not the case for its taste. Valerian is one you might want to take closer to the end of the day, as it can take enough edge off that you might feel like going to sleep.
Aromatherapy. Lavendar is best known for its relaxing, slightly sedating effect. I’m not sure how much of it is placebo, but people will swear by it. It’s also one of the most popular aromatherapeutic scents my massage therapy clients request at my studio. When I took my first whiff, I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. After some time, though, it snuck up on me and grew on me, and now I sometimes secretly hope a client will request it. If lavendar isn’t your thing, though, no worries. You’ll probably find solace in another scent, such as ylang-ylang or something more earthy like cedarwood or more medicine-y like eucalyptus.
Exercise. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but a good workout can actually be very relaxing, either during or after. You don’t have to run yourself into the ground; a simple 30 to 60-minute walk will do. More vigorous exercise like a martial arts class is good, too; the class itself isn’t exactly sleep-inducing, but it does provide an outlet for the accumulated stresses of the day so that when you’re done, you can go home and actually relax.
Chiropractic. This remedy might surprise you, but it is the single quickest way to balance out your nervous system. Since nerves run through the spinal cord, there’s an immense concentration of sensors all along the spine. When you get (properly!) adjusted in a certain way, these sensors get activated and they basically tell your brain to balance everything out. There are also bundles of nerve cells in certain parts of your spine that specifically relate to relaxation centers and can relax you directly. This isn’t something you can do yourself, nor is it something you can have an untrained buddy do. Please do yourself the favor and go to someone who has had the schooling, and has the license to prove it.
Massage Therapy. You’re probably not as surprised to see this one. Many people get a massage on a regular basis just to keep themselves relaxed. Two things they should realize, though, is that once a month or less is not going to cut it. The anti-stress effects of massage last a week at best. For economic reasons, many people schedule every 2 weeks or so as a compromise. The other thing is that if they’re not also under chiropractic care, they may be doing themselves a disservice, because many clients request work on sore areas and not knowing better, therapists oblige. Sore areas are usually that way because they’re overstretched, and massage therapy only stretches them further. This creates changes in posture over time that if left untreated, become chronic. Massage therapy is a fantastic way to relax; just make sure to find a good therapist who does strictly relaxation work at moderate to light pressure, or who does good corrective work, depending on what your goals are. Also, make sure that the nerves that feed those muscles are functioning (hence, your trusty DC), and do drink tons of water after the session!
Vitamins. There are certain vitamins that have a specific anti-stress effect. Vitamin B5, or pantothenic acid is one of them, but it works better when taken in combination with the rest of the B vitamins. Vitamins don’t like to be isolated by themselves, so pick up a bottle of quality B-complex capsules or liquid (or sublingual, if you can find it). You’ll get plenty of B5 there.
In addition, certain foods can have a relaxing effect. I’m not talking about comfort foods here; I’m talking about protein-rich foods that are also high in the amino acid tryptophan, like warm milk, turkey, and salmon. It’s not by accident that everyone falls asleep promptly after Thanksgiving dinner; it’s because the turkey has tons of tryptophan in it, which your body converts to serotonin, a brain chemical responsible for happy, calm moods. (The people who get in fights with the family over Thanksgiving must not have gotten good tryptophan-packed turkey!)
Incense. This is one of my favorite ways to relax. I haven’t yet heard of any real mystical ancient medicinal qualities associated with any particular type or scent of incense, but I do find nag champa very relaxing. The scent is sweet, rich, and earthy. It may be a bit heavy for some, but try it and see. I also like Satya Baba incense. It’s a bit sweeter yet and a wee bit less heavy. I also found some gems at Earthbound Trading Company. They have names for all of their flavors of incense, so I never know exactly what the scent is made up of, but go exploring; it’s worth it.
Other activities, like reading and talking. Along with exercise, these are left-brain activities. When we are stressed out, we tend to live more in the right hemisphere, which has more and stronger connections to the stressful, adrenalin-soaked fight-or-flight response.
During years of chronic stress, people shift more into what is called right-brain dominance. Both hemispheres can’t be dominant, however; there’s only one alpha, so if one is too strong, the other is that much weaker. Reading a book or schmoozing with your spouse or a small group of friends wakes up the left side of the brain.
Once it feels included and not left-out, it begins to participate and you end up with this more balanced feeling. That’s why after a double-date or a girls’ night out, you come home feeling refreshed (given that it went smoothly). You can’t quite put your finger on it, but somehow all is right with the world.
Reading has a similar effect. Unless you’re engrossed in a suspenseful page-turner, reading is very relaxing and often, people are out within minutes. Same concept. (Side note: Right-brain/left-brain dominance and balancing are the basis for chiropractic neurology and are 100% backed up by physiological, neurological, and psychological fact. It’s such an important concept that permeates practically every daily activity and thought, that it will probably eventually get its own post.)
Music. Ah, yes. Music – that without which the world would never be complete. Some good dreamy music is good, or some upbeat but relaxing acoustic guitar. I personally really like the ethnic-tinged ambient/dub kind of music, which blends contemporary beats and instrumental technology with ancient traditional instruments, vocals, and styles. I also like some downtempo lounge. And of course, the Spanish-influenced acoustic guitar music as well.
Be careful which music you choose, though. Some of your favorite stuff may not be as relaxing as you think and may actually have the opposite effect.
Pet the kitties. If you have cats, dogs, or something else cuddly, research has shown that they lower blood pressure. For real. So, go pet or snuggle up to your cat. Listen to them purr. If you’re in the health-care field, grab your stethoscope and put it up to your cat’s side as they purr. Not to sound all sentimental, but it’s kinda special.
And as for my professors? Worry not, doctors; studying for a test is guaranteed to put someone to sleep! 🙂