by: Alicia Hart, ND
There is possibly only one thing that everyone in the country can agree on about this whole dumpster fire of an election season:
This entire election season has been so stressful.
Acute stress can be useful. Sympathetic nervous system changes our physiology in a number of ways. Our blood moves away from our digestive system and fills our muscles with oxygen and tension so that we can run. Visual motion tracking improves though acuity decreases, heart rate and blood pressure go up, our adrenal glands dump adrenaline and cortisol into our circulation, immune system initially tones down inflammation- everything you need to respond to a situation where you might need to run from tigers.
Chronic stress isn?t as useful. Chronic high blood pressure doesn?t help you run, the pressure makes your heart work too hard. Chronic increased heart rate will make you dizzy. Not having adequate parasympathetic relaxation can mean you don?t digest your food adequately, leading to all sorts of gut problems. Most of your body?s serotonin is produced in your gut, so that digestion problem can lead to disruption in the gut/brain connection and cause depression or anxiety. High cortisol over time interferes with your immune system and blood sugar regulation. I could go on, but there?s about a million other posts on the effects of chronic stress. Today I want to give you some tools to combat the next 24 hours.
Aromatherapy research shows that inhaling lavender can significantly decrease blood pressure, heart rate, and skin flushing- all parasympathetic reactions that help our bodies move out of our stressed state. Lavender tea, lavender scones, diffusing lavender- there?s so many ways to use the plant. Lavender itself is a food grade herb, so you don?t need to worry about overdoing the physical plant. You can have as many cups of lavender tea or lavender lemonade as you need to make it through Tuesday.? Essential oils are trickier, but even lavender essential oil (properly diluted) is fairly safe. Lavender has been described as being specifically suited to? ?negative states of the soul? and ?the stress filled life?. There?s a mild contraindication that it may be estrogenic in adolescent boys- however all of that research has been done on 3 boys. Lavender is a particularly safe herb to help yourself relax, especially for the effects of chronic stress.
All of that nervous energy in the acute phase is meant to help you get out of whatever situation your brain found dangerous. In the history of the world, that was miles and miles away. I?m not saying you can outrun the election, but I am saying that there is a plethora of research saying that exercise will improve or reverse many of the effects of chronic stress. Exercise can be a loaded word, so let?s reframe that really quick. Go move your body in a way that you enjoy, that raises your heart rate and/or involves weight bearing challenges, for 45 minutes a day. Go dancing. Go disc golfing. Try rock climbing, yoga, hula hooping, surfing, hiking, kung fu, paragliding- anything that uses that sympathetic energy for the purpose it was intended. If you?re out of practice, be gentle with your body and do your best. Check in with a health professional for other health concerns, as some individuals will have trouble tolerating exercise. However, for the vast majority of people, getting your movement on can significantly decrease both the effect that stress has on your body and how you perceive stress.
Research shows that meditation can change outlook, physiology, and behavior patterns. While mindfulness based meditation systems are the most commonly studied, this approach has been used for centuries by many different traditions around the world. Yoga, Tai chi, Qi Gong, and prayer are all forms of meditation. Prayer has an external focus, but the function on the body?s stress response is much the same. An old zen saying states that ?you should sit and meditate for 20 minutes a day, unless you?re too busy. Then you should? sit for an hour.? Try to sit and just be present, instead of obsessing about the results. If you need help not obsessing, try the mindfulness app, or the headspace app.
Try not to add to the stress on your body
Using alcohol to wind down in the evenings and caffeine to get up in the morning just pushes your body further into that sympathetic dominance picture. Eating terrible food that you don?t even want is a common response to stress, but it doesn?t help to relax you. Focus instead on really nourishing yourself and drinking enough water. Comfort foods like casserole, chocolate and ice cream are mostly playing with your brain?s desire for an instant dopamine rush from the sugar and dairy. I?m not saying to never eat these things. Just that a bottle of wine and a pint of ice cream aren?t going to fix the election, and that moderation focused on healthy nourishment is more likely to help you in the long term of dealing with election fallout.
Get some sleep
Once you drop below 6 hours a night, your body thinks stress hormones are a good idea anyway. Particularly if you have other factors keeping you awake (kids, business, housework, etc) you really need to protect the hours that you can sleep. Try to avoid screens for an hour before bed (I?m looking at you, person reading this blog and scanning election polls when they should be sleeping), keep the room dark and cool, use some white noise or ear plugs.? Try to keep your bedtimes and wake times as consistent as possible.