This content has been produced by DeltaV Partners.
When we’re properly resting, we restore, replenish, reduce anxiety, digest and improve our wellbeing. The issue many of us face is we are spending too much time ‘switched on’, whether that be emails at our fingertips, social media activity or the environment we live in. Many lifestyle choices are putting us under stress including how we work, our nutrition or even the way we train.
Yes, that’s right, sometimes a rigorous training session can have detrimental effects on our recovery, due to more stress being placed on our bodies and minds, which affects our wellbeing.
Take a moment to consider how you rest. How many minutes a day do you rest without stimuli such as the TV or your mobile phone?
Does it really matter?
Yes, it does. Good quality rest can have a huge impact on your mental, physical and social health. Resting well is intrinsically linked to performance.
Consider an athlete, they spend huge amounts of their time recovering and allowing their bodies to ‘grow’ from the training they’ve completed. Rest in the corporate world is much tougher, as days are long and the separation between work and home is challenging… more so now than ever.
Here are some benefits to quality rest:
- Improves physical recovery
- Improves sleep
- Improves digestion
- Improves mood
- Lowers blood pressure
- Improves performance
- Improves the immune system
- Reduces stress hormones.
What’s at play?
Our autonomic nervous system (ANS) controls our involuntary and unconscious bodily functions such as sleep regulation, breathing and our heart rate. It operates without our knowledge or consent so, do we have any control?
There are two sides of the ANS: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS). They do different things but function together.
Our SNS provides the speed, energy, and fuel to thwart danger, aka fight or flight.
Our PSNS is internally directed. It takes care of the daily business of life such as rest, digestion, reproduction, aka rest and digest. Both are crucial to our survival and play a key role in our health and wellbeing.
The following diagram shows what is happening when the systems are triggered.
How do we achieve better rest?
It is crucial to have an understanding of how we’re feeling. Do you feel relaxed? Are you sleeping well? Do you feel anxious? All of this will help raise your self-awareness. We would recommend you keep a diary and analyse any trends that might occur.
However, you might want to (and we would recommend you do) capture data. Measuring heart rate variability (HRV) is fast becoming a key variable for athletes, performance coaches and wellbeing experts. HRV monitoring measures the variation in the time interval between consecutive heartbeats in milliseconds. Higher resting-state HRV scores signify the ability of the body to activate the parasympathetic rest and digest response. Lower resting-state HRV scores signify an activated sympathetic fight or flight response or suppressed parasympathetic activity.
There are many HRV monitors on the market with some free applications available. You could also consider the list below to help you rest better.
We can’t remove all external stress. Meditation is the best way to decrease our reactivity to stress we can’t control. It teaches us to ignore triggers, and slows our breathing, heart rate and blood pressure which all align to PSNS activation.
Regular massage has been shown to restore balance between SNS and PSNS. Massage makes us stronger, calmer and supports our immune health.
Breathing straddles the peripheral nervous system and the autonomic system. It happens automatically but we can also control it. Controlled and slow breathing is a hallmark of PSNS. But it’s not just a symptom, it’s a signal. Slowing your breathing intentionally tells your SNS than things are okay. This activates the PSNS.
- Inhale through your nose for four seconds
- Pause for four seconds
- Exhale out your mouth for four seconds
- Pause for four seconds
- Repeat for as long as you have
Like meditation, yoga will bring you into PSNS, It also bolsters your ability to decrease SNS activation when you are stressed. It is also great for strength and flexibility.
Can what you eat affect your SNS and PSNS balance? Yes. Avoiding stimulants such as caffeine and sugar will facilitate PSNS.
Be careful! When we are already fatigued, the last thing we need is another bout of vigorous exercise. Be aware of how you’re feeling emotionally and physically, sometimes reaching for the yoga mat over the weights is a wise choice.
Rest while working from home
Consider your working hours; have a clear start and finish to your day, take adequate breaks and use them wisely. Try to ‘escape’ for a few minutes to breathe, process and recharge.
Finally, discuss your plans and ideas with your family, create an understanding of what you are trying to achieve, and why you’re trying to achieve it.