Educator Self-Care Series: Introduction to Relaxation
In this module, we’ll learn about how to recognize the symptoms of stress in the body and the long-term effects of stress on your body and mind.
After watching this video, you might like to access the other modules in this series to learn and practice simple relaxation techniques that can help you de-stress and release tension.
The techniques that you’ll learn in this series can be helpful in managing your own stress and can also be shared with others who are experiencing stress, like your coworkers, family and friends, and the children and students you work with. You can even practice these activities together.
There are a lot of possible ways that you might experience stress in your body.
You may notice physical symptoms like feeling very hot or cold, feeling sweaty or clammy, noticing your breath and heart rate speeding up, or noticing sensations in your stomach like butterflies. You may also notice other symptoms like racing thoughts.
The body’s stress response is automatic and essential for our survival, but it is designed to go back to normal when the threat has passed. But if the sense of danger continues, the ongoing activation of the body’s stress response might shift from being protective to being damaging over time.
When we feel stressed for prolonged periods of time you may notice feelings of restlessness, a lack of motivation, difficulty focusing, irritability, anger, or sadness.
You may even develop chronic problems like frequently getting sick, excessive inflammation, increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses.
At the most basic level, your sympathetic nervous system interprets stress—whether constant or occasional—as a threat.
The perception of threat can trigger a physiological response ranging anywhere from heightened awareness (similar to an animal scanning its environment for predators) to an activation of the fight, flight, or freeze response that the nervous system relays to the mind and body when an immediate threat or risk is perceived.
The secondary effects experienced with a stress signal include the release of the hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which might increase your heart rate and your blood pressure and cause your breath to quicken and to be more shallow.
Though these physiological stress responses by the nervous system happen automatically, it doesn’t mean that the physiological response is always accurate.
Sometimes the body responds to what the mind interprets as a threat, even when there is no real current threat to safety.
Essentially, a threat — whether it is a threat that is real or perceived — that is, a result of triggering a memory of one or more past experiences that felt threatening — can activate this acute stress response.
Once a stress response is felt in the body, it can be difficult to relax and to shift the body back into a state of rest. Sometimes, the body stays in an activated state of stress for a long period of time as a way to try to protect us against danger.
For some of us, we do not feel safe in our day-to-day lives, maybe because of the environment in which we live or because of events that we have experienced in our lives.
Depending on our circumstances and personal histories, our experience of stress might be relatively constant, or chronic, versus more occasional, or acute.
No matter how you experience stress, there are ways to help bring relief to the body by encouraging the nervous system toward ease.
Relaxation techniques pass a signal to your nervous system that you are safe and that you are not under threat.
Just as the sympathetic nervous system can be activated by a perceived threat, the parasympathetic nervous system takes responsibility for calming the body after a stress response has been activated.
The techniques that you’ll learn about in this series can help you activate your parasympathetic nervous system and its ability to slow the heart rate, lower the blood pressure and bring the body into a state of ease.
In a busy day and in lives that demand a lot from us, it’s sometimes hard to be able to slow down and rest. The two techniques that we’ll introduce and practice together in the next two modules don’t have to take a lot of time, and can even be done in a few minutes between your other daily responsibilities.