Stress Recovery: Physiological Strategies

15.06.2018 |

Episode #9 of the course How to be good at stress by Dr. Kimberlee Bethany Bonura


Welcome to Day 9!

I’ll emphasize again: Recovery is a critical part of your relationship with stress. To be good at stress, you must make time for recovery. There are physiological mechanisms that occur when you are aroused: increased heart rate and blood pressure, elevated stress hormones, etc. It’s vital that you make time in your life to support physiological rest for your body. Let’s review a variety of physical techniques that are proven to support the physical healing of the body after stress.


Get Moving

Exercise can be stressful. There is the mental and psychological stress of finding time, finding equipment, and finding motivation. There is the physical stress of pushing your muscles during a workout, which sometimes leads to stress after the workout due to sore muscles. But it’s worth it.

People who exercise regularly have better relationships with stress than those who don’t work out regularly. Regular exercisers have lower blood pressure, lower rates of anxiety and depression, and improved sleep quality. It’s not that people who are healthier choose to exercise, it’s that exercise makes you healthier across the board.

Even just a little makes a difference: One study found that just three half-hour lunchtime walks a week can improve mood and reduce workplace anxiety. But according to Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), even a ten-minute walk can be enough to improve mood and help manage stress.


Relax Your Body

There are many ways to relax your body. Massage is a great option, and research shows that it can help your body relax (letting go of those tight muscles) and help your mind find a sense of calm (that’s why you feel that post-massage bliss fog).

A hot bath offers both physical and psychological benefits for recovering from stress. One research study found that when people took a bath every day for two weeks, their psychological health improved. They had reduced levels of pessimism and increased levels of enjoyment. Other research shows that adding the essential oil lavender to a bath provides additional relaxation benefits, reducing heart rates and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Draw a bath, drop in some lavender oil, close your eyes, and find your inner quiet.

Shinrin-yoku, or Japanese forest bathing, means to be outside in a natural green space. Research shows that forest bathing helps lower blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of stress hormones in your body. If you don’t have easy access to a forest, any natural green space can yield similar benefits. Turn off your phone and go for a walk in a local park. Feel the way your shoulders and neck begin to unclench in the quiet of nature. According to one study conducted at the University of Michigan, walking in a natural space (instead of on a city street) improves psychological well being, including attention, memory, and energy.


Take a Vacation

You need time off. Research with more than 1,300 participants from the University of Pittsburgh Mind-Body Center found that people with more leisure time had fewer negative emotions, a lower risk of depression, and improved psychological health and life satisfaction. Consider research that tracked 12,000 middle-aged men: Those who skipped vacation had a higher risk of heart attack than those who took time off each year. Those who skipped vacation for five years in a row had a 30% increased risk of heart attack. In the Framingham Heart Study, which tracked more than 700 women over 20 years, those who took vacation less than once every six years had eight times the risk of heart disease or heart attack as those who took two vacations a year.

Taking a vacation may be a matter of life or death, so plan for time off.

Your task: Make time for something fun, like a sport, relaxation activity, or a vacation. You deserve it!

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about your daily need for rest through good sleep.


Recommended reading

Exercise and Stress: Get Moving to Manage Stress


Recommended book

The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook, 6th Edition by Martha Davis, Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman, and Matthew McKay


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