Rest and Digest. A vacation at any time.
Updated: Feb 13
You know that feeling you have when you’ve taken a moment to just sit back and relax?
Maybe it only happens when you’re on vacation. You know the moment you find yourself sitting on a beach and all of a suddenly feel extremely calm and for that moment everything feels right?
What if you could have that at anytime, on demand?
The reason you feel like that on vacation is because you have disconnected from life and allowed yourself to relax. While doing that you tell your body that it can let go by activating your Parasympathetic Nervous system also know as the Rest and Digest Mode. The purpose of this part of your nervous system is to counteract the Fight or Flight mode we spoke about last week (See Part 2 of this series) It is what balances your nervous system and undoes the affects Fight or Flight mode brings.
Fight or Flight vs Rest and Digest
Fight or Flight mode brings on a rush of adrenaline, causes you to breathe faster, dilates the pupils, rushes blood to the arms and legs pulling it away from the organs and causes the heart to beat faster. These are important things to have happen when you are really in danger.
Rest and Digest tells the brain that the body is no longer in danger. It brings blood back to the organs, allows the process of digestion and elimination to begin working again, and calms the heart beat. The body relaxes and you feel good because at that moment you aren’t reacting to stress - you are enjoying no stress.
You don’t have to go on vacation to find that feeling. You can engage with rest and digest anytime you want and should do so often. You were created with both fight or flight and rest and digest because you need a balance between the two. You can’t stay in fight or flight all the time because your body will start to break down. Stress creates serious health issues and contributes to leading causes of death. That’s how you know you aren’t meant to be stressed all the time. Your body can’t take it because it’s not meant to.
It's all inside
So you have this magical gift inside you that lets you counteract the negative affects of stress. The problem is where Fight or Flight jumps in without your control, you control Rest and Digest. Rest and Digest won’t instinctually jump in to help you. You have to actively make it important to find the balance.
Most of us weren’t taught how to do this as children or young adults so we aren’t teaching our children or grandchildren how to do it and we aren’t learning ourselves because let’s face it - you don’t think you have the time.
It also holds no value for you. We live in a world where being busy holds value.Being stressed out and having too much to do holds social value. To counteract that stress we find unhealthy ways to distract from how we feel. We mindlessly scroll through social media, binge watch shows or do other things to keep us busy because the pause would force you to acknowledge that things are not alright. I like being online too but there has to be a balance.
Does reading that make you feel uncomfortable? Good!
Right now we are in the middle of a pandemic and most of us are spending more time at home. We are working from home and taking care of children at home because everything has been cancelled. Maybe you are careing for a loved one at home. No matter why you are there you have been given the gift of having more of an opportunity to fit self care into your daily routine. You aren no longer driving everywhere or having to say yes to social engagements. And if you are out there driving to work you need to find the time to balance things out even more now that there is the additional stress that a pandemic, racial injustice and social unrest bring.
In order to activate the Rest and Digest mode you have to stop - physically and mentally. It doesn’t have to be for a long period of time and you don’t have to go anywhere, wear anything special or learn a special skill. Your body is set up to get the cue from you quickly.
You have to make it ok to relax and then you have to find ways to relax multiple times a day because, if you read last weeks post, you are under different degrees of stress all day long. Once you find ways to relax during the day your body will start to crave that feeling and after a while it will want more of it.
Once you take a small amount of time to let your body know that it is safe and that it can release tension and relax you will be able to call on the Parasympathetic nervous system and counteract some of the stress you are carrying. Over time you will be able to incorporate those moments into your life on a daily basis.
How do I do it?
Find things to do that you enjoy and make you feel calmer while you do it. Maybe it’s a morning walk or enjoying your cup of coffee in silence. Possibly it’s the doodling you do after a virtual meeting before moving on to the next thing. Maybe it feels good to sit in the car with music up loud and singing without caring who can hear.
You have something that you like or used to like doing. Now that you are super busy it might feel like it’s silly to even think of doing anything like that for just a few minutes. BE SILLY!!! Have fun for a moment. Take a break from what you are working on and enjoy your life!!
What you are doing is important to the world, to you, to your family. If you don’t take care of yourself you won’t be able to be the change you want to be for your community and the people you care for.
Next week: Learning how to use the fast pass to our PNS that we all have inside of us and can control whenever we want.