There are a million reasons you might be feeling stressed right now (or as most the reasons I can think of revolve around other people, there are 7 billion-ish reasons). I’m not going to try and guess what they are, or give you a top 10 so perhaps I should have made the title of this post the reverse; “How you feel stressed and why to stop it”.
You probably know that stress is a normal human response. Your Autonomic Nervous System (to save typing; ANS) detects a threat in your environment, and prepares you to take action, called Sympathetic mode, commonly known as Fight or Flight. If someone was to try and attack you in the street for example, you’d need your body to react quickly so you can either stand your ground and win a fight, or (my personal preference) Leg it. Your ANS knows what it’s doing and makes loads of changes in your body so you have the best chance of survival.
The issue comes when you spend too much time in this state. Your adrenaline is pumping, leaving you at risk of burn out. Your digestive system is in a state of shut down as your blood is needed elsewhere, meaning you don’t digest food properly so you either get ill or fat or both. The kicker is your ticker. Stressed people are more likely to have a heart attack, because it’s working way harder than it’s made to for long periods.
Your ANS has another extreme as well, parasympathetic mode. This is the opposite of stressed – depressed. You don’t want to spend too much time in this state either, you’ll feel lethargic, a bit spaced out and generally down in the dumps.
Although both extremes are normal, and necessary at times in your life, having both states in balance is really the key to living optimally.
Bringing yourself back into balance as quickly as possible will make you more resourceful, and actually more capable to deal with the situation at hand.
Here’s how. Breathe.
Take control of your breathing, and keep focussing on it until you’ve settled into a rhythm where your breath in and breath out are the same length – a count of 6 each way is optimum, but as long as its steady and calm and is working for you don’t worry about that. Also, don’t hold your breath in at the top, keep it smooth.
Imagine that you are turning a wheel with your breath, there is a marker so you can see when it’s at the top and the bottom. When the marking is at the top, start the wheel spinning away from you as you exhale. When the marker reaches the bottom, bring it back round to the top as you inhale. You don’t want the wheel to stop spinning, and you want to keep it at a calm even pace.
It’s been shown that if you can spend 5 minutes breathing in this calm and balanced manner it will have a positive impact on your ANS for around 5 hours – putting you back in control and ready to face things properly.
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