Health & Happiness: Reduce stress by sticking to a routine

By Jennifer Means, ND, LAC

For many of us, it seems like time just keeps speeding up. Our lives are demanding more every day, and we have to rise to the occasion and better our coping skills.

Our stress response system is like a light switch that is meant to turn on and off as needed. The problem for many of us, however, is that we have so much on our plates, the switch gets stuck in the “on” position. When it’s time to relax and turn the switch into the “off” position, our bodies can’t do it! They’re instead alert and waiting for the next stressor, not able to be convinced that the coast is clear and we can turn the lights out. We are left with symptoms of sleep disturbance, anxious feelings and funky moods, fatigue, weight changes, digestive problems, other hormone imbalances, and even chronic disease.

So how can we re-learn to turn our light switches off and feel truly relaxed?

Believe it or not, the two things I’ve seen work most powerfully are actually quite simple. They are: creating repeatable habits, and having unstructured down time.

Stick to a routine

Our bodies are creatures of habit. Like the two-year-old who has a meltdown if they stay up past bedtime or have a late dinner, our stress response system does not like to get out of routine. When we have consistency- consistent bedtime, meal times, and down time, our brains perceive that we are safe, and make “happy, safe” hormones as opposed to “stress” hormones. To have good energy, a strong immune system, hormone balance, and great sleep, this is what we’re going for! I highly recommend creating routines like: exercising at the same time every day, having a nighttime wind-down routine, eating meals at the same time daily.

Unstructured down time

Another important part of resetting our stress response system comes in the form of unstructured down time. I’m a big fan of marking off times in my calendar during the week that are “NO PLANS” times that I can move slowly and remind my brain that it doesn’t have to problem solve all the time. My favorite ways to do this are: having at least an hour of quiet time in the morning to move slowly and not be in a rush, have at least five hours every Saturday morning during which time I do NOTHING.

Creating and sticking to routines and unstructured down time can be a challenge, but if you stick with it, the changes to your stress response system will leave you feeling happier and healthier than you can imagine.

Dr. Jennifer Means & Dr. Elizabeth Elliott welcome you for Primary Care for the whole family: Nutrition, IV Therapy, Naturopathy, and Acupuncture. For more information, contact us at 503-641-6400.