Burnout, resilience, and stress management were top of mind before the pandemic swept the world in 2020. Three years into the COVID era many of us are still striving to balance the overstimulation and flood of information common in modern life. Yet conversations about regeneration typically stop at meditation and foam rolling.
An integrated wellness perspective takes a whole-person approach to recognize stress, recovering from stressful events, and regeneration of body and mindset. In this blog, we'll look at the various types of recovery methods you can use to recharge and live well in 2023 and beyond.
The Need for Recovery
Your body is constantly responding to your choices, environment, and perceptions. One job of your body's systems is to maintain homeostasis, the steady equilibrium of the body's systems such as blood pressure, resting heart rate, and body temperature all within certain ranges. Allostasis is the fluctuations that happen in the body in response to stress to maintain or regain homeostasis.
Allostatic load is the effect on the body when stress accumulates without full recovery. These stressors can be physical, emotional, mental, or perceptual and the accumulation can come from all the body's systems since each of us is a holistic and integrated person. Stress in the mind or the emotions is also stress in the body, and vice versa. When allostatic load increases and stress is sustained without recovery it can damage the body's systems, emotional regulation, and mental health.
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Different Types of Recovery and Regeneration
Because of stress' broad-reaching effects on the body, mind, and emotions our recovery strategies aren't only limited to physical recovery. While foam rolling and stretching are useful tools, they don't serve to support other forms of recovery and a holistic approach. A more complete recovery strategy will include tools for mental, emotional, and physical recovery.
Many of us are familiar with the feelings of physical exhaustion. We push ourselves in the gym, at sport, dance, or in life and the body is sore, tired, maybe even stiff or injured. Psychological recovery is no different. We're challenged intellectually through work, school, or duties at home. Or we have emotional stressors like a sick partner, a toxic work environment, or the loss of a loved one. Unfortunately, few of us are taught how to manage psychological recovery in the same way that physical recovery is managed.
Just like overtraining can lead to physical injury, overwhelming allostatic load from mental and emotional stressors can lead to physical symptoms, mental health challenges, and increases in stress hormones that negatively impact cognitive performance, eventually damaging some systems in the body.
Effective psychological recovery includes strategies for mental and cognitive recovery as well as emotional processing and recovery.
A holistic approach to stress and recovery should include a variety of techniques for physical regeneration. When the body is stressed through exercise and activity our muscles and connective tissues experience damage and our bodies use up stored materials like glucose and creatine. Effective recovery strategies are those that increase the healing of damaged tissues, which results in gains in strength, stamina, and athletic performance. Meaningful recovery also helps the body to replenish used materials or heal both acute and lingering injuries.
When we don't take the time for meaningful physical recovery we risk injury, illness, and negative impacts on mood and motivation.
Strategies for Recovery
Because each of us is a holistic person many recovery strategies benefit multiple systems. For example, prioritizing sleep has been shown to benefit recovery mentally, physically, and emotionally. Here are some traditional and less well-known recovery strategies and how you can start practicing them for yourself and with your clients.
Reframing the Stressor
Mental and emotional stress can be actual, like working on a difficult project or perceived, such as your self-talk. Learning to monitor your perception and reframe your self-talk can be a powerful tool in shifting your recovery. For example, learning to catch fixed mindset thoughts and reframing them to a growth mindset. If you don't meditate already, mindfulness meditation is a great place to learn the foundational skills for how to catch your thoughts.
Sleep has a profound impact on all aspects of recovery. That's because when we sleep our bodies, brains, and nervous systems are repairing any damage accumulated throughout the day, restoring used chemicals and compounds, and regenerating our foundation for the next day. Optimal sleep happens at about the same time every 24 hours, lasts between 7–9 hours of total sleep time, and is in an environment that supports good sleep. That environment should be dark, cool, and relatively quiet.
Appropriate Intensity Movement
Movement can be both a source of stress and a source of recovery for the body, mind, and emotions. That's because the movement has a powerful impact on most, if not all, systems of the body. When recovering from intense physical activity restorative movements like lower-intensity cardio or flow patterns can speed recovery by circulating blood and lymph. Doing so brings necessary resources to damaged tissues and buffers away waste.
Similarly, movement helps with psychological recovery through its boosting effect on serotonin sensitivity and dopamine production. The correct intensity depends on the individual's level of overall activity, recent activity, and general health status. Something as simple as a 20-minute walk daily is profoundly beneficial.
Myofascial Release Techniques
Whether with tools such as foam rollers or working with a massage therapist, myofascial release can speed physical recovery and lower allostatic load. Promoting muscle relaxation, breaking up fascial adhesions, and encouraging deep breathing all help to speed recovery and reduce stress.
Breath Training or Breathing Exercises
Whether derived through yoga, Tai Chi, Chi Gong, breath-focused meditation, or other practices it's becoming more widely known that our breathing affects our nervous system. Because the nervous system regulates the stress response in the body the state of the nervous system directly impacts our ability to recover and restore homeostasis.
Breathing techniques can be learned by trying one of the above, working with a coach, or one of the more modern programs that derive from those traditions such as the Wim Hof Method.
Meditation has become more widely practiced in the west over the last few decades, but it's less well-known that different types of meditation cause different effects on the mind and body.
Loving-kindness (Metta) meditation has been shown to increase kindness and other prosocial behaviors. Body scan meditation increases the connection with the body and lowers self-critical thoughts. Mindfulness and other focusing meditations increase the ability to concentrate, and meditations where affirmations are repeated decrease negative self-talk.
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An often-discounted form of recovery is time spent with family and friends. Humans are deeply social creatures, and our sense of self is impacted by our social interactions. It's not uncommon to isolate when we feel stressed; however, time spent with others can boost mood, decreasing feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety. These benefits can be enhanced by spending time outside, volunteering together, or getting restorative movement together.
Not All Stress is Bad
Recovery and regeneration happen in response to stress, but it's important to know that not all stress is bad. Exercise, education, work challenges, and even having children can all be welcome sources of stress in our lives. Stress provides the stimulation that often causes us to grow, learn new skills, and become more resilient over time.
However, to grow we need time to process, reset, repair, and recover after bouts of high stress. It is the balance of stimulation, response, and recovery that allows us higher levels of achievement, integration, fitness, and wellness.