The need to de-stress has never been greater

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Our need to de-stress has never been greater than it is today. We don't run into any scary animals on a  day to day basis and we don't run the risk of being eaten during the course of a normal day. In the pre-civilized world, the increased blood flow to our heart and muscles helped us escape from predators and dangerous situations. However, our bodies don't know the difference between predators, a grouchy boss or an irate spouse.

When we get stressed, hormones such as cortisol flood our systems, producing the "fight or flight response". This increases our heart rate, we breathe more heavily (requiring more oxygen) and our blood vessels constrict.  Instead of helping us to escape, this contributes to chronic conditions like hypertension and headaches, as well as mental health concerns like depression and anxiety disorders. Stress can even  make other conditions worse; such as  irritable bowel syndrome, asthma and insomnia.

De-stressing has now become an important part of our lives and there are many ways of doing it, each one as individual as we are. My personal favourites are finding space on my yoga mat for a mindful practice, running to some up-beat music, knitting and even cooking.  I have found that I can very quickly come down from a stressful day and reach my "normal" in no time at all, because it seems that each one of us is blessed with a "relaxation response" to counter the all too familiar "stress response".

Something as simple as deep breathing exercises can put us into a mild state of meditation. Any yogi will know that the breath (pranayama or life force) is deeply nourishing. It seems that medical research agrees. Breathing exercises can reduce blood pressure and may even be able to change the expression of some genes, according to Harvard researcher Herbert Benson.

Music is also good at calming the mind. It floods the brain with dopamine, a powerful neuro-chemical which helps us feel good. Classical music is especially soothing.  It slows the heart rate, lowers blood pressure and even decreases levels of stress hormones.

It also appears that repetitive motions -- like the fine motor skills used to knit, make jewellery or cross-stitch, can soothe anxiety. My hobbies are actually great de-stressers. Concentrating on a new skill along with repetition is not only productive but also protective to the body. It's a win-win situation. I am already visualising knitting another pair of socks for myself; all in the name of health!

What hobbies do you use to de-stress? Try something new because our need to de-stress has never been greater than it is today

Written by: Mimi

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