Stress is a normal part of life. Everyone lives with it, and everyone handles it a little differently.
At times, stress can feel overwhelming and like it’s eating us alive. You know the feeling- the palms start sweating, the heart rate speeds up, muscles start tensing up, and it can be difficult to get a deep breath. The body starts to go into a defensive, protective state.
But it doesn’t HAVE to be this way. Ultimately, you are in complete control of how your body handles and interprets stress. Studies have shown that people who perceive stress as a negative have poorer health outcomes (decreased lifespan, increased pain levels, decreased ability to recover, etc.) than those who interpret stress as a positive.
What an empowering thought – you have control over how your body interprets stress!
So what are some ways we can start to “re-shape” the way that our bodies’ are interpreting stress. One of the ways we can do this is through our breath.
With each breath, your body is making neurophysiological micro-adjustments to the body’s “stress levels.”
As you inhale, the brain slightly increases the production of a chemical called noradrenaline.
Noradrenaline increases heart rate, blood pressure, blood flow to skeletal muscle, and decreases blood flow to the digestive system. These are all actions traditionally associated with the “stress response.” Too much noradrenaline production and you may start to feel the sweaty palm symptoms of stress start to come on.
As you exhale, noradrenaline production decreases and heart rate and blood pressure follow.
The human body is an incredible thing, and it’s amazing to me that these small adjustments are being made with every single breath.
So how can we take this concept and use it to take control of our body’s interpretation of stress?
When we feel stress levels rising, all we need to do is take 2 minutes to focus on our breath. By focusing on your breath, you can help noradrenaline levels to decrease before the stress becomes too overwhelming.
Here’s the 2 minute exercise you can use to take control over your stress levels:
1. First, place your hand over your stomach and breathe normally. As you inhale, you should feel your stomach (actually your diaphragm) expand slightly. As you exhale, you should you feel your stomach (actually your diaphragm) contract slightly. Get a feel for this action with each breath before starting the exercise.
2.Once you have a feel for the action of the diaphragm, inhale for a 4 count and feel the diaphragm expanding.
3. Now exhale for an 8 count. This might feel like a long time and like you’re running out of breath – as you practice, you’ll get better at controlling the exhale for 8 seconds. As you exhale, feel the diaphragm contracting.
4. Repeat this 4 count inhale, 8 count exhale action for 2 minutes (or 10 breaths).
That’s it. By focusing on and extending the exhale of your breath, you’ll decrease noradrenaline levels in the brain and take back control of your response to stress.
You can literally do this anywhere – in the car, in your office, in bed, or in the gym. If you’re someone who constantly feels stressed out, try to work this simple exercise into your daily routine 2-3 times/day.
To live a long, happy life, you need to take the body out of auto-pilot and take back the wheel. This exercise will help you do just that.
Once you give it a try, let me know what you think – it will be challenging out first, but with consistent practice, you’ll be on your way to mastery.
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About the Author
Evan Lewis is a nationwide leader in Neuro Therapy and founded the Baltimore area's only specialist Neuro Therapy facility.
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