Yoga De-stresses Body & Mind - Here Is How
Updated: Oct 13
Stress has been called the “Health Epidemic of the 21st Century” by the World Health Organisation and is estimated to cost the British economy up to £100 billion a year in lost output, according to The Mind charity.
The effect of stress on your emotional and physical health can be devastating.
As a definition, we can roughly group stress into two categories:
Acute Stress: Sudden, Sharp & Short-term
Acute stress refers to something that causes your stress response to activate, such as narrowly avoiding an accident, or being stuck at a red light when you are trying to get to a meeting.
When this happens, your body reacts. You feel an increase in muscle tension, heart rate, and stressful thoughts such as: "My boss is going to think ill of me if I am late to this very important meeting."
Then the light turns green, you make it to work with time to spare, and you start to relax.
However, even though the stress ebbs, your body requires time to recover from the stressor, so that it can reset you physically and psychologically back to your non-stressful state. During this period of recovery your blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and stressful thoughts reduce.
This is considered a healthy stress response, your body has time to recover, and goes back to a normal physiological state.
Episodic Acute Stress: Sudden, Sharp & Short-term
Similar to acute stress, but episodic acute stress keeps occurring again and again on a frequent basis, such as in jobs that have frequent high-stress moments.
Chronic stress happens when you are confronted with many stressors both simultaneously and after one another. Your body does not get enough time to recover from one stressful period before the next one occurs.
Taking the above example, if you arrived late for work and you needed to get to that meeting fast, you are yet again faced with another stressor that builds on top of the travel stress, with no time for you to calm down.
If this keeps happening, eventually you are led to a state of chronic stress.
Symptoms Of Chronic Stress & Why Is It So Bad For You?
Chronic stress is bad for the whole of you: your mind, body and spirit. This is because it affects all aspects of your being and by extension your quality of life.
The symptoms of chronic stress according to Yale Medicine are:
Reduced physical health
Increased breeding of illness
Aches and pains
Sleepiness and sleeplessness
Changes in social behaviour
Inability to focus
Change in appetite
More regular use of drugs and alcohol in order to cope
It is important that you learn to manage and reduce your stress before it gets out of hand. And if you are already at this point, the good thing is: you can always start with stress-reducing techniques, it is never too late.
How Does Yoga Affect Stress?
There’s been a lot of research into yoga’s positive effects on stress. The most robust finding is its ability to help you manage all types of stress, and reduce self-reported stress.
Specifically, yoga targets people mentally and helps improve how the body functions on a nervous system and hormonal level.
How Does Yoga Help Your Mind?
Yoga helps reduce feelings of overwhelm and perceived stress, as the practice helps ground the mind and reduces the perceived threat of the stressor.
It also provides individuals with increased positive attitudes towards stress, a feeling of control, coping mechanisms for when faced a stressor, feelings of calmness, compassion, mindfulness, and in some cases, spirituality.
All of these highlight the positive impact that yoga has on individuals and their stress levels.
How Does Yoga Help Your Body?
Yoga activates the vagus nerve, which is the main nerve in your body's parasympathetic nervous system. Also known as the rest response, the vagus nerve controls digestion, rest, and heart rate.
Activating this nerve reduces a perceived threat due to the rest response kicking in, and reduces the activation of stress hormones (cortisol, adrenaline, noradrenaline and others).
When yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system, the fight or flight response is reduced, and so is the elevated heart rate, muscle tension, blood pressure, and cortisol levels that accompany this stress response.
The reduction of cortisol levels and other stress hormones will positively affect your sleep: high levels of stress hormones increase heart rate, body temperature and feelings of being on edge. This makes it harder for you to fall asleep, and once you are asleep to drift from light to deep sleep. Yoga has the ability to impact the rest response (parasympathetic nervous system) and improve sleep and stress levels.
It's the duty of your parasympathetic nervous systems to calm you down after a stressful event, and yoga has bene shown to help the system to kick in faster, and more effectively.
Research suggests that it is the balance between the fight or flight response (sympathetic nervous system) and the rest response (parasympathetic nervous system) that reduces stress overall.
This is also known as the sympathetic vagal balance- ‘sympathetic’ referring to fight or flight and ‘vagal’ referring to the parasympathetic nervous system in charge of the rest response.
How Can You Deal With Your Own Stress?
Every one of us deals with more or less stress every day. But it doesn’t need to become a long-term problem.
By being aware and building good relaxation habits and stress management techniques, you can reduce the chances of suffering from the long-term health impacts of stress.
If you feel that you can’t manage your stress or stress-related symptoms, it’s important to obtain help (Mind Charity)
At Unwind Yoga Studio, we teach yoga that helps you destress and relax. Have a look at the class styles we teach, and learn how we can help. Don't let stress get the better of you!
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Mental Health Foundation (2021). URL: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/s/stress
Miles-Hanson, C. (2022). An Exploration of Aromatherapy and Mindfullness Meditation to Relieve Symptoms of Chronic Stress. URL: https://idun.augsburg.edu/etd/1161/
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Very Well Mind (2020). URL: https://www.verywellmind.com/stress-and-health-3145086
Yale Medicine (2022) URL: https://www.yalemedicine.org/conditions/stress-disorder ; Miles-Hanson, C. (2022). An Exploration of Aromatherapy and Mindfullness Meditation to Relieve Symptoms of Chronic Stress. URL: https://idun.augsburg.edu/etd/1161/
Yoga Alliance (2020). URL: https://www.yogaalliance.org/Membership_Benefits/Upcoming_Online_Workshops/Stress_Regulation_and_Yoga