So there’s probably a routine you do every day. Well there are probably a few routines you do every day, most commonly a morning and evening regular series of events. What do you do every morning when you wake up? Take a shower, make the bed, have coffee, eat breakfast, start your day. Ok, since COVID, your a.m. routine may not be as on target as it used to be! Chances are that you still do something each morning, even if it is just brushing your teeth! You likely also have an evening regimen. Maybe you watch some TV, answer email, look at social media, read, wash your face, and again...brush your teeth. Most of us have a fairly consistent evening ritual just before bed. Out of all of these options, oral hygiene is a task we know we are supposed to do at least twice a day. Why do we know this and why do we do it? Since we were kids, a great deal of education has been provided to us on the importance of personal hygiene. We understand why preventative dental care, in particular, is important and the consequences of what may happen if we don't take proper care of our teeth and gums.
We can’t say the same for understanding the importance of mental hygiene and proactive emotional wellness. Implementing preventative care when it comes to managing anxiety is as important as taking on other preventative health care that tends to be more in the forefront. We are exposed to an influx of stressors on a daily basis, especially in recent months, and adding in an emotional self-care step as part of your daily ritual is more important than ever!
WHY IS PROACTIVE EMOTIONAL WELLNESS IMPORTANT?
Our body’s stress response is very complex, but here’s how works in very simple terms. As we go through our day and encounter stressors, the sympathetic nervous system is activated. This can signal various changes in our body, including faster heart rate, increased blood pressure, rapid breathing, and sharpened senses that cause us to feel “on alert.” Our body stays revved up until it receives the signal that we are out of danger and that message comes from the parasympathetic nervous system. When we are exposed to high stress, our nervous system stays activated. Even if we just have chronic low-level anxiety, our body stays in this idle status of not fully activated in the “fight or flight” stage and not fully calmed down. Remaining in this state keeps the cortisol flowing, making it difficult for the body to replenish and obtain more energy. Stress takes up the reserves you should be using to create more resilience! This is particularly important right now because one of the negative aspects of persistent anxiety is that it weakens your immune system. During this time of increased health risk, it is more important than ever to strengthen the immune system and make daily self-care a priority.
WHAT’S THE SOLUTION?
The solution to counteract the body's stress response s to induce the body's relaxation response! This is achieved by participating in calming activities such as breathing from your diaphragm, meditation, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, sound healing, tai chi, reciting a mantra, and other relaxation techniques . The key is to start a relaxation training exercise and find what works for you –- see what technique feels calming to your body and brain. When you start relaxation training, remember, it’s “training” and it takes practice. Many people give up quickly because they find they cannot relax. Give yourself time to get used to the practice you are learning and for your body/brain to adjust to how it feels to calm down. Don’t give up just because you get distracted and cannot concentrate, or don’t initially feel calm. Start in small time increments if you find longer periods of time too difficult or frustrating. Often, people have a relaxation strategy or coping skill they implement only when feeling increased anxiety, or are in a high-intensity situation. Practicing relaxation daily, even at times you are not feeling the anxiety, allows you to purge worry and distress that tends to build up before it becomes problematic. Doing a calming practice when you are not at a heightened state of anxiety can also make it easier to learn it, enjoy it, and truly feel the results in your body.
HOW DO YOU CREATE A ROUTINE?
Creating a routine is the way we remember to do something daily. Here are a few tips on how to get this relaxation routine started:
STAY IN THE ZONE.
Be aware of the stress and strain you put your body through each day, both emotionally and physically. Imagine your nervous system continuously firing signals, really trying to alert you to danger and protect you. You want to calm it down each day as a sort of reward and reset to bring it back down to a low stress zone. Think of it as a range you want to stay within for good emotional and physical health.
Maintaining your nervous system at a low activation level will provide more tolerance for distressing situations, as your body may elevate to mid-level activation as a reaction to increased anxiety. If your levels are already in the mid to high range, a high-pressure event can cause your body and brain to be overloaded. This is what leads to issues like panic attacks, high blood pressure, difficulty breathing, etc.
IT'S NATIONAL WELLNESS MONTH!
August is National Wellness Month, dedicated to self-care, creating healthy rituals, and stress management. This is a great time to prioritize your health and well-being and choose proactive emotional wellness. Adding this calming practice into your daily schedule is also a great way to get your routine back on track if you have strayed from your daily norm during this period of shifted schedules and displacement. Think of the commitment you’re making to yourself to show up at the designated time each day. Keep this date you have with YOU the same way you would if you made it with another person. Starting a daily relaxation routine is an important step in staying mentally and physically well. Show up for yourself - your health is worth it!
Anissa Bell, LMFT
Clarity Therapy Associates