Exercises to help stress and anxiety

Sympathetic dominance is when there’s an imbalance in how your nervous system controls your body. It effects your whole body wellbeing including increasing your levels of stress and anxiety. There are a number of ways in which this imbalance can be corrected. In this blog I am going to discuss how Sympathetic Dominance can affect your upper body posture and exercises to help stress and anxiety.

Your body in a Sympathetic Dominant state

If someone is affected by Sympathetic Dominance, their body will go into a rolled forward shoulder, fight or flight posture. Specifically, what we see is the head comes forward, the shoulders round forward, and the muscles around the upper part of the chest and the lower back tighten. On top of this, the muscles around the upper part of the back and the lower part of the abdomen become disinhibited (in other words, they switch off).

So, in order to help a person with Sympathetic Dominance from an exercise perspective (on
top of all the other amazing care they will be doing!) we need to follow a couple of basic
principles.

Stretch and strengthen

We need to stretch the tight overworking muscles and strengthen the disinhibited muscles.

If I were to show you in a picture – it would look a little like this!

The area we focus on patients in a sympathetic dominant state with exercise to help stress and anxiety.

Now, there are some fundamental exercises that I would strongly suggest avoiding when we are correcting or managing someone’s sympathetic dominant state.

They are:

  • Bicep curls
  • Push ups
  • Bench press
  • Boxing
  • Pull ups
  • ….or anything that winds up the anterior chest muscles.

Why I hear you ask? Because in a nutshell…these exercises activate and switch on the anterior chest muscles. Remember the principles we went over earlier? It’s important that we don’t stimulate the already tight muscles (we want to stretch and release them instead!).

Some really great stretches to open up the chest (and improve blood and oxygen flow) include pectoral stretches (for example in a doorway or lying on the floor), and using a posture rehab device. While you’re there – stretching the hamstrings and calves is also a great idea. I show exactly how to do this in the below video.

Now all that’s left to do is strengthen and tone the weak muscles. You can strengthen the back muscles by using a band, you can do ‘angel’ exercises on the floor, and you can also do Superman’s (Tabata is a fun way to do this!). Again, check out the above video to see these in action! Another great exercise if you do go to a gym is basic bent over barbell rows.

The good news is, cardio exercises (e.g. walking, running, riding, swimming, rowing etc) are all on the keep list! Just make sure to stretch properly once you are finished.

It might take a little bit of adaptation and change to your usual gym or exercise routine, but it is really worth the effort if you are already on the path to winding down your sympathetic nervous system! 

Contact us at Ohana Health & Wellbeing if you need any help – we are more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

In this blog I am going to discuss how Sympathetic Dominance can affect your upper body posture and exercises to help stress and anxiety.

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