Rest & Digest For Maintaining A Relaxed Lifestyle

  • You’ve just had a major argument with your boss, and your team doesn’t seem to be backing you up on crucial decisions.
  • You need to catch a flight, and with just an hour to spare, you’re trapped in a humongous traffic snarl.
  • Your elderly mom just called to say she had a fall and has been taken to the ER.
  • Your spouse wants you to attend a boring corporate dinner.
  • You’re getting a call on your cellphone from an unknown number.

What’s common between all these situations is your body’s perception of a threat and the response is – Fight or Flight.

When the crisis gets resolved, either way, your system needs to be re-set to return to equilibrium. This is when another set of reactions sets in – the Rest and Digest.

Both reactions are controlled by the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) and are complementary to each other.

What’s Fight or Flight


The Fight or Flight response is an acute stress reaction to a real or perceived danger. In a crisis, your entire system prepares itself to go to war or to run away. Ultimately, you have the option of choosing the one that best suits the context and your capability.

This reaction is generated by the sympathetic nervous system which is a part of the ANS. A host of hormones including adrenaline and cortisol are released.

This is what happens inside your body in Fight or Flight:

  • Blood pressure goes up to boost cardiac output
  • Blood diverted to muscles and extremities
  • Higher release of blood sugar and fats
  • Increased respiration, faster breathing
  • Blood clotting reaction increases
  • Muscles get tensed to prepare for action
  • Dilated pupils to see better
  • Higher emotional responses such as anxiety, anger, aggression
  • Skin becomes paler or flushed
  • Digestion slows down or stops

What’s Rest and Digest?

Once the situation resolves itself, the body has to get back to stability. This is when the parasympathetic nervous system of the ANS kicks in. It controls the regular functions of the body that occur under non-stress conditions. These would include the reproductive system, heart, and lungs, eyes, blood vessels, digestive system, salivary glands, kidney, anal sphincter, and bladder.

All these systems would slow down or even pause during the Fight or Flight situation. It’s the job of the Rest and Digest system to ensure that all systems resume their regular functions and get the body working, business as usual. It stops the release of the Fight or Flight hormones and releases another set of hormones such as acetylcholine, dopamine, serotonin and melatonin.

The purpose is to conserve energy, relax, and restore.


How Does Stress Affect You?

A certain amount of stress is necessary to function, protect yourself, and feel energized. Prolonged exposure can lead to many negative outcomes. You could develop headaches, stomach and digestion problems, ulcers, sleep disturbances, anxiety, irritability, diabetes, arthritis, psychosomatic illnesses, depression, fears and phobias, hypertension, and ultimately cardiac issues or stroke.

Most of these are directly related to the presence of stress hormones in the body, and it’s important to know how to reset your physiology so that your system regains equilibrium and begins to function normally.

Activating the Rest and Digest Response

Managing stress has been a concern for humans since the dawn of history. You develop your way of coping with it, based on learned experience, It’s important to understand:

  • the cause of stress
  • recognize your own individual responses ─ both physiological and emotional
  • how the Fight vs Flight and Rest and Digest reactions affect your body
  • how to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and the Rest and Digest response

7 Tips to Jump-Start the Parasympathetic Nervous System

  1. Relaxation ─ To activate the parasympathetic nervous system, it’s important to learn to relax consciously. Opt for regular exercise that’s simple, effective and within easy access. Select a regimen such as walking or running if you have the space. Join a gym or a yoga class, Tai Chi, try cycling, or a group exercise session.
  1. Music ─ has the power to change your mood, and work on your parasympathetic nervous system. Certain types of music can immediately bring down your heart rate and blood pressure.
  1. Develop a hobby ─ Work on a favorite hobby such as gardening, art, or collecting stamps. It offers quality time with something creative and this can bring stress levels down instantly.
  1. Meditation ─ Even a few minutes of meditation a day can help to lower stress levels. You can opt for an organized, structured meditation or a free-flowing, personalized form that’s suited to your personality.
  1. Quit scrolling ─ Compulsive scrolling is the bane of our times. We’re flooded with information, news, gossip, ads, and more every moment of the day, raising your stress. It’s your choice whether to blindly consume everything that’s beamed at you or to restrict screen time consciously. Switch on a Do Not Disturb on your phone, switch off email alerts and notifications, and detox from your devices at least once a week.
  1. Calming activities ─ Using aromatherapy, taking a warm bath, and even tidying up your kitchen cabinets can bring down stress levels. Turn off bright lights and opt for dimmers, ensure that there are no blue screens or lights in your bedroom. If you live in a noisy neighborhood, opt for noise-canceling windows. Use products and ideas from trusted websites that will help to defuse crises and strengthen your Rest and Digest responses. See the rest and digest website here.
  1. Kindness ─ Practice kindness and gratitude and minimize unkind and negative thoughts as much as possible. It’s impossible to screen every thought that enters the mind, but being mindful, and ensuring that you don’t focus continuously on negative ones can reduce stress. Identify toxic situations and people in your life so that you develop strategies to avoid them.