Today’s post is a continuation from last week: Stepping out of the sympathetic mode and into the parasympathetic mode.
When I decided to do todays episode, I initially wanted to talk generally about reducing negative reactions throughout the day, reducing your overall reactivity as a parasympathetic activation trick. But then I got really into writing about the major SYMPTOM of this uncontrolled reactivity—the impact of stress on your body AND your ability to manifest.
We’re going to talk about both today. Your physical body as a part of manifestation, tricks to activate your parasympathetic system, and all the little shit that goes on throughout your day and how you choose to react to it. I’ll say that last part again, how you CHOOSE to react to the shit that happens.
You manifest who and what you are, your identity.
Well guess what? The little things you do and experience throughout the day is a part of that—either a solution or a problem depending on what it is you’re doing. And your reaction to these things and how that affects your body, is a part of that.
I once took a course from Eckhardt Tolle who talked about the becoming non-reactive and how beneficial this is to stepping into the role of someone who masters manifestation. I let this idea marinate for a long time and it really didn’t click for me until recently.
Before jumping into my tips for engaging the parasympathetic system and reducing reactivity, I’m going to tell you a little bit about my experience with living in constant sympathetic dominance.
I’ve been on a healing journey for years. For a while, I was trying everything. Every supplement, therapist, exercise, diet, etc. Trying to re-teach my body how to be and stay healthy. But I didn’t start seeing anything change until I found out about the parasympathetic system and how that impacts the body. All of my symptoms? Ya, they were connected.
I found out that the constant inflammation in my body wasn’t due to dairy, gluten, exercise, or even my sleep schedule. I was inflamed and in pain because I was CONSTANTLY stressed. But here is the thing.... I didn’t KNOW I was constantly stressed. If you’d asked me, I felt fine. Normal. I wasn’t feeling stressed in the way I did when meeting a critical deadline.... but it was still stress, a different kind of stress, a more subtle accumulation of all of the little things going on—the perceived stresses like social media, texts, emails, trash day, traffic, etc.
Most people get stressed out by the same little shit, but many people are able to return to that relaxed state afterward to reset and rebalance. My body wasn’t getting to that reset point. And for a lot of high achieving women, theirs can’t either.
I was spending thousands of dollars on a cognitive and behavioral therapist, nutritionist, career coach, physical therapist, acupuncturist, chiropractors, dermatologist, a masseuse.... I was seeing all of these professionals trying to heal different things going on with my body that I didn’t realize were interconnected.
I was inflamed and it was causing chronic lower back pain, adult acne, dermatillomania, severe weight fluctuation, anxiety, terrible periods.... and I’m so thankful I had the ability to see all of these professionals because after about 3 years of searching for answers for all of these things separately—I found out they were all caused by the SAME thing. My stress levels. Cortisol.
If you’ve listened in long enough, you probably know that I’m a type A recovering perfectionist who organizes for fun, and if you’re into astrology... Virgo sun and Capricorn moon.... I am BUILT for to-do lists and falling into the trap of busyness.
I had this habit of doing too much, all of the time...operating under constant stress. It wasn’t that I was always under pressure from other people or fearing for my life in any way. I was just doing too much, over extending myself and sort of bragging about everything on my plate. Sound familiar to you? Maybe, maybe not...
I found myself using my crammed schedule as a source of my self-worth for a long time. Not realizing that my body was SCREAMING at me to slow down and chill. Sit. Feel into the body. To stop self-medicating with food and wine.
And thank god I finally had a practitioner tell me that my cortisol levels were at a constant high—that my body was not exiting fight or flight mode. I wasn’t allowing myself to enter the rest and digest phase.
Fight or flight is the bodies signal to engage the sympathetic system that keeps you alert and energized. I could come out of this state and into a relaxed state temporarily using acupuncture, a massage, yoga, or reiki, but I’d find myself right back in fight or flight mode within minutes of finishing and I struggled to get back there on my own.
Thankfully, when this practitioner told me about this, all of the pieces fell into place. The Universe was trying to tell me this in a million different ways for years and I wasn’t listening.
My therapist would say I had high-functioning anxiety. My nutritionist said my hormones were going nuts for some unknown reason. My chiropractor had no physical explanation for my pain other than the inflammation. My dermatologist had no clue why the diet changes, the supplements, and the new skin care routine wasn’t working to tame my acne. Even a masseuse asked me why I was so stressed sitting on his table when I felt completely relaxed.... or so I thought. I was like what do you mean?! I feel very relaxed right now. And he just raised his eyebrows at me like.... are you sure?! I had no idea.
When I was told about the fight or flight response, it clicked.
Stress....cortisol.... hormones, inflammation, acne, pain, anxiety.... it was all connected. It all came down to the sympathetic system working in over drive. My inability to relax, even when I thought I was relaxed. I’ve learned that you can get SO used to being in a constant state of fight or flight, that you no longer notice you’re there. And that’s what happened to me. I’ve been operating in this state for decades.
And now that I’m working intentionally on reducing my stress levels, my symptoms are slowly going away. After almost 25 years of dealing with them all separately. I’ll share some of those tips for you at the end of this episode.
I am STILL working to address my response to stress. It developed over decades of desensitization to chaos and it’s going to take time to re-teach my body that it’s safe and that it can relax.
So why did I want to share this today? Even though I’ve learned how powerful the mind is, especially on your body, I’d lost that sense of connection—that mind-body connection. That your body is a part of the manifestation equation. And stress internalized from exterior circumstances will impact your body as much as your mind. And if I was experiencing that much pain physically? What was this doing to my vibe? My identity? I don’t want to manifest MORE stress for myself, and yet I was operating as a constantly stressed person.... wondering why more things were popping up for me to be stressed by.
And, lately I’ve run into so many women with similar stories, but different symptoms. I feel like women have a tendency to “push through the pain” to get shit done. We set aside our stress and our own needs in pursuit of success. Women who have shared their fight or flight stories with me suffered from things like PCOS, weight problems, psoriasis, auto immune disorders, gluten insensitivity, acne, shoulder pain.... and most of them also experienced stress as the main cause because of the digestion or hormonal connection. And, their symptoms got better when they started working to engage the parasympathetic system and handle their stress better. To step out of the chaos and the constant cortisol.
So, I had to ask myself a few weeks ago. How many women are out there dealing with their own pain and symptoms that are a part of their identity now? Impacting their daily life and habits?
When you realize how much the sympathetic system impacts your body, you begin to understand why it’s important to stay out of when you can. Symptoms of operating in sympathetic dominance are suppressed lubrications (dry skin, dry mouth, dry scalp, receding gums, decaying teeth, libido issues), high blood sugar (increased insulin sensitivity, digestion issues, weight fluctuations, notice you often lose weight after a relaxing vacation?), you’re jumpy (you’re caught off guard a lot, this is a shared symptom of PTSD), sweating too much, have trouble sleeping, you may have memory issues, brain fog, chronic pain, etc.
My inflammation from stress was and still is impacting my ability to take manifestation to the next level because it keeps me from doing things I would do if I weren’t in this pain and experiencing these issues. They’re distracting me from the good. I still have some clearing to do before I can shake off inflammation as a part of my identity. It takes time.
I had to have a heart to heart with myself too. I knew a lot of the things that would help me relax, but I still wasn’t doing them.... because I didn’t see them as productive! So, in my heart to heart, I asked myself:
How can I get to the next level of success when my body wasn’t handling the status quo? When my body didn’t feel good? What was my identity if I were someone who pushed through pain as a means to success if it meant tearing apart my body in the meantime?
How could I manifest more peace and freedom when I felt trapped in my body from the pain? How can I manifest health and happiness when I was experiencing frustration with my body?
I’m really thankful to my pain for letting me know that this had to stop. My body was giving me signs that I wasn’t operating from a healthy place, and now I’m making lifestyle changes to resolve this. Because my body, my environment, my mind needs to be in balance to manifest the massive success we’re headed for.
Think about it. Are you separating your physical body and any symptoms you’re experiencing, from your ability to manifest? Because it’s all one working unit. You have to take care of both. And, the little stressors matter.
Now for the answer you’ve all been waiting for, steps to engage the parasympathetic system and exit fight or flight:
How Can You Activate the Parasympathetic System?
1. Idle tasks. Prompt body to relax through rituals, or idle tasks. Find something to lose yourself in that you won’t engage in stress over the finished outcome. For some people this could be art, dance, cleaning, cooking, gardening, things as simple as peeling potatoes or tilling dirt are great because they get you out of your head, into your body, and decompressing. They key is to not try to multitask while doing this.... you know who you are! Don’t try to learn a language, listen to a podcast, or do anything that gets you back into your head. This is about relaxation, not productivity. The more you let yourself relax, the more productive you become.
2. Mild exercise. Not HITT based workouts that stimulate cortisol, but the milder workouts like a long run, walk, yoga, bike ride, etc. Anything that gets your body moving into a slower rhythm.
3. Belly breathing. Most people have a tendency to breath and raise the chest instead of expanding the belly. I think a lot of propeller learn this over time because of movies and vanity issues, but chest breathing is harmful from a stress perspective. We’re only meant to have shallow chest breaths when we’re stressed. Slow rhythmic breathing is a fantastic way to tell your body it’s safe and okay to rest.
4. Slow down. Slowdown in every aspect. Slow your voice—how quickly are you talking? I can always tell if I’m stressed by how fast I speak. Slow down your breath. Slow down your routine—are you doing too much too quickly? Is your morning routine a giant chaotic mess? Jumping from task to task? Slow down your walking speed. I’m looking at my fellow efficacy babes. Are you a speed walker while running errands? Slow down while you eat. Try to actually taste the food, notice the texture. Eating should be pleasurable, but it’s only pleasurable and satisfying when it’s in your mouth, not in your stomach. And, this includes your daily schedule. A lot of people that operate in the sympathetic system have a tendency to become addicted to the stress, the busyness, the constant stimulation.... it’s similar to the feeling of being on Adderall.... but it’s not healthy, Slow down, slow down, slow down. Can it feel cringeworthy at first? Absolutely. But your body will appreciate the rest signal that slowness brings.
5. Meditate. I know, I know. You’ve heard it before and you’re still not doing it ;) meditation that is body focused is an amazing signal for your body that says we’re safe. We are safe to sit, to be, to rest, to slow down. When you meditate, you’re accomplishing the slower breathing, the idle task, and body awareness...of course it’s going to help you engage the parasympathetic system! And, when you do it consistently, you teach your body how to access the parasympathetic system easier when you face a stressor. It’s forms new neural connections that RE-teach your body a healthier stress response.
6. Feel into your body. Get a massage, a pedicure, manicure, take a hot bath, cuddle with your partner or dog, get a weighted blanket, try Gua Sha facial massages, walk around barefoot outside, SLEEP! etc. Feeling into your body tells your brain that you don’t have to find a way out, it’s okay to notice your body, to relax. Physical touch is an amazing way to do this. Ever notice you drool while sleeping or getting a massage? It’s because you’re in the parasympathetic state and your body is starting to lubricate again. It’s making up for lost time.
7. Stimulate the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is responsible for heart rate, digestion, your respiratory system, etc. It is very in-tune with the parasympathetic system. So, it makes sense that stimulating it helps you relax. You can do this by humming, doing some yogi sounds like “om” or “vuu”, you can sing, gargling, massaging your neck, etc.
8. Reduce screen time. TV (especially thrillers and action movies) stimulates your sympathetic system. So does your phone, iPad, laptop, kindle, etc. Blue light from electronics tells your body to hold off on melatonin production which also impacts your sleep.
9. React less. I’m going to spend some more time on this below, because it is the hardest step to do and the most important. Find ways to reduce your stress response by reducing your initial reaction to external and perceived stressors. We all perceive different stressors. What might stress you out like a text message, a full email inbox, a snake, a clown, may not be a stressor for someone else; however, your brain can be trained to react less to these stressors. At one time, you learned to be afraid of these things. You can I learn this too.
As an example, text messages that I don’t know the answer to immediately stress me out. Specifically, if someone asks me to do something and idk if I’m available yet, I stress over opening that email. And, that won’t stress everyone. But I react less when I set boundaries in place. Letting people know on the front end that I do not respond quickly to texts. What are your stressors?
Manifesting greatness requires your whole self, your identity, your lifestyle. Your thoughts AND your healthy physical habits. It’s how we live our lives. And, how you live your life can be viewed through the lens of how you react to the world.
When I made this connection, Eckhart’s message that I mentioned earlier came flooding back to me. I wasn’t living from a place of non-reactivity. I was constantly on guard, ready to perceive a threat and pounce.
It’s not that I had any more stress than the average career driven woman.... it’s that I internalized EVERYTHING. From bad traffic, to 14-hour work days, to getting cut off on the highway, to running late to a lunch because of a garbage truck, to rushing myself out the door in the mornings, to trying to answer all of the hundreds of emails I get a day.... I was in a constant state of stress because I was in a constant state of REACTIVITY. I was reacting to absolutely everything in my environment. And, I was reacting negatively. Absorbing and filtering the chaos around me.
How we react to the little things like traffic, rude emails, our spouses’ dirty dishes in the sink, our dog jumping up on us, the grocery store line moving too slowly, the friend that is an hour late, the mother that doesn’t stop criticizing.... how we react and internalize that stress is what you’re manifesting more of. You can’t be all positive and love and light and shit internally, but react negatively externally.
How we react to these little things throughout our days...is how we live our life. This is a part of our identity. Your identity isn’t just the significant moments, it’s also the small stuff. And, if you’re like most people, you’re probably reacting negatively more than you realize which is making it harder to manifest the good shit.
Working on this starts with finding peace and patience. Removing your inconvenience from the equation. The old lady is moving too slowly in front of you? Find a way to make that endearing or helpful for yourself. Come from a place of love as often as you can. Letting....the little shit go.
I won’t lie. It’s hard. I struggle with impatience and this is my Achilles heel. And I haven’t figured it out yet. If you have advice, let me know on Instagram!
I used to catch myself getting annoyed all of the time because I’m always go-go-go and the interruption by slowness or inefficiency throughout the day used to be really jarring for me. I’m hitting every red light?! Really?! This lady needs to walk at a glacial pace RIGHT in front of me with her big ass cart?! This guy is going to stop right where I need to be and linger for 5 minutes?! These are things that used to drive me nuts, that caused me to react, that fed my stress levels.
Now that I’m aware, I try to laugh more, find that patience, embrace the peace, and say thanks to the Universe for the reminder. Yes, I do need to slow down. Yes, I need to make time to be. Yes, I do need to practice patience. Yes, I need to fucking chill out today....
So, this week, take note of how you’re showing up in the world. Where can you be more patient? More peaceful? More loving? Less reactive? That’s the goal. Becoming less reactive. Who could you show more kindness to? Which tips can you implement to activate the parasympathetic system? This little shit, makes all the difference. It makes you, you.
Thank you so much for tuning in with me today!
Have a fantastic rest of your week, and I will catch you next Monday! Until then, go out there and manifest some miracles.
Check out this discussion on the podcast: