As anyone who lives with an autoimmune disease knows, stress and neglecting recovery are some of the worst things you can do to trigger your symptoms. Even without an autoimmune disease, those things can cause issues with digestion, fatigue, hormones, weight, and soft-tissue injury.
While I definitely believe in the power of active recovery when it comes to keeping fit, passive recovery is largely overlooked. Our world is so filled with stimuli: We're attached to our phones for work and leisure, and for many of us, we don’t wind down nearly enough. After being in a constant state of "go," your adrenals start to wear out and that all-too-familiar feeling of burnout and exhaustion start to creep in. That's where passive recovery tactics come in.
The bodies' balancing system.
Our parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems are part of our autonomic nervous system, which is the system in the body responsible for many of our internal organs’ vital functions like heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, and arousal.
Think of sympathetic to parasympathetic as yin and yang: They are complementary systems. Your sympathetic nervous system is your adrenaline-fueled "fight-or-flight" response that gets triggered by mental or physical stress, and your parasympathetic nervous system is your "rest and digest" system that gets triggered by relaxation, rest, and comfort.
So why am I talking about this? Because our parasympathetic nervous system doesn’t get nearly enough time in the spotlight. And it asks for the least complicated things to help it do its job.
What exactly is passive recovery, and how can it help me?
Passive recovery is pretty great. It involves sleeping, hanging out with our loved ones, snuggling with furry friends or lovers, reading books, and slow walks outdoors to soak up the scenery. Passive recovery is the non-activities that make you feel blissed out and relaxed. Yes, it actually is super important to just chill out and do nothing sometimes—not just for self-care Sunday and a mental reprieve but because your body physiologically needs time to spend in parasympathetic mode for recovery.
When I was first diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, I didn’t realize that I also had leaky gut as a side symptom of my inflammation and weakened immune system. My body was constantly flared up, ready for a fight, and my sympathetic nervous system was ruling dominantly over my parasympathetic nervous system. I’m already the personality type to never be able to sit still, so this was a huge challenge for me.
But after I started incorporating things like a nightly meditation and journaling, slowly chewing my meals and relaxing instead of scarfing down lunch while doing emails on my phone, and immediately just sitting still for five minutes to decompress when I get home from a long day, I started noticing a huge difference in my digestion and inflammation. It’s also the type of cyclical practice where progress builds on top of progress. My increased ability to relax led to better sleep, which led to less fatigue during the day, which led to less reaching for sugars and caffeine in the afternoon, which then helps energy stability and lessened inflammation.
While I’m not saying that nightly meditation will magically cure your leaky gut and autoimmune disease, I am saying that incorporating passive recovery can be an extremely helpful tool for managing your symptoms, which aids in the path to healing. Give some of these practices a try, and see what you notice!
Want to understand recovery better? Here's everything you need to know about active recovery.