How to rest after trauma to slow your heart rate, reduce your blood pressure and relieve tension

After being in a car accident where someone died, I went into shock. I continued, however, to live life as normally as possible, working, attending my church, and volunteering, along with many other extracurricular activities. It wasn’t until 6 months later, that my body started to physically shut down. I then learned the value of rest..

Rest is not something that comes naturally to a lot of us. As we are continuing to be bombarded with social media, TV, friends, and social events that we don’t want to miss out on. If, however, we do not take the time to rest and allow our bodies, physically and emotionally to relax, then we will come into all sorts of problems down the track. I always say that you can deal with the stress today or let it build up and throw it under the rug. If you choose the latter, however, then one day someone is going to move the rug, and then what happens? All hell breaks loose! You don’t want to be in that situation, trust me. There is a way to prevent stress from building up so you have some reserve in your tank, both physically and emotionally, when life’s disasters show their ugly heads.

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Because I delayed resting and recovering for 6 months after that fatal car accident, it took me a good year-and-a-half to actually rest and get some sort of normality back after my body broke down. I had worked and continued with life, pretending as if I had no injury at all. It actually caused the psychological injury to worsen. Many don’t see emotional and psychological injuries as real because you cannot physically touch those injuries. To me, however, the psychological injury that I had was very, very real.

The Pain Science website states:

“Resting “properly” is trickier and a more critical part of injury rehabilitation than most people realize, and is often at odds with a culture tradition of aggressive therapeutic exercise (“no pain, no gain”).

In learning to rest, I scaled back my life. I focused on things that made me smile and people that brought me joy. When you go through trauma your body becomes wary of the world, and in my case my flight or fight response was through the roof. My sympathetic nervous system was out of control and my parasympathetic nervous system just was not functioning. 

Our sympathetic nervous system is what allows us to respond to dangerous or stressful situations. It is actually a good thing. It will speed up the heart rate and deliver vital blood to areas of our body that need more oxygen, or initiate other responses to help you deal with the imminent threat or danger. However, if our parasympathetic nervous system doesn’t kick in (the one that calms us down again), then we stay on high alert for way too long. In my case I ended up having major chest pains and heart palpitations, heavy breathing and shakes well after the traumatic event. I continued in that state for 6 months before my body had enough and started to really break down. That’s when I stopped, regrouped and re-trained my brain.

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Rest is so crucial for our overall well-being. But what do you do if you are running a business, have deadlines to meet, running a household, have sick kids or looking after elderly parents? Rest doesn’t have to be long periods of time during the day or night. Rest can mean a few moments in time where we consciously decide to just be still.

Psychology Today Website addresses rest in this way:

“The study of violin students demonstrates that muscles learn, as do brains. They also perform better with periods of intense activity followed by rest.”


Wellbeing talks about the important of relaxation:

Relaxation slows our heart rate, reduces our blood pressure and relieves tension. It also aids digestion as we absorb essential nutrients more efficiently when relaxed, which helps to fight off disease and infection.


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While running around after an active and adventurous 18-month-old, here are some quick tips I have found that work for me when it comes to rest:

1) When my son plays in the garden, I will also sit in the garden without my phone for 5 minutes, taking in the fresh air and greenery.

2) Sit at a cafe with a magazine and turn off my phone notifications.

3) Get a massage.

4) Walk down the street and back. When I am pressed for time just a quick 5-10 min walk in the fresh air can do wonders.

5) Ask for help! When I am overwhelmed and trying to do all the things, I pause and reassess and realise generally I need help in that moment. If you’re able to, reach out for help even if it’s just for someone to assist you for 30 minutes so you can take a break.

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Be brave and choose to take a moment, even now, to breathe and rest. Taking even just a few minutes to relax and breathe deeply can result in reaping the rewards of emotional strength when you need it most. Remind yourself that nothing is more important than your physical and emotional health.

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