Imagine taking a leisurely walk in the park when a gun wielding man emerges from the bushes a few feet in front of you and demands you hand over your wallet/purse.
In one quick second, your body is mobilised for action. Your eyes register the person and the gun, and send this information to the thalamus in your brain. The thalamus on sends the information to your amygdala, which matches the information to its memory store of known ‘threats’. It identifies the man as mugger and screams to the hypothalamus: “THREAT!!!!” The hypothalamus quickly passes the message of alarm to your nervous system, which activates the stress response.
The stress response prepares your body either for a battle or to run like hell. Epinephrine (adrenaline) floods your bloodstream, triggering your pounding, quick heart rate. Extra blood fills your veins. Your blood pressure sharply increases, rapidly funnelling blood toward your vital organs and muscles. Your breath quickens and shallows, pressing extra oxygen into the brain for added alertness. You are now fully prepared to fight this mugger or take flight in the opposite direction.
Every single one of us responds to perceived threats with a “fight or flight” response.
This stress response is well designed to save us from danger, and it has been doing so for us and our ancestors for a long, long time. But here’s the tricky truth of modern day existence: it’s not just real and present threat such as a gun wielding mugger that triggers the stress response. Whatever we perceive as a threat (e.g. being stuck in a traffic jam, being assigned a new project at work, the severe look our boss gives us as s/he passes our desk, a bullying workmate) will activate our stress response.
The stress response evolved to switch off after the threat had passed at which point the relaxation response (rest and digest) is activated. We then enter a recovery period. Today, because people are prone to perceiving so many things in their environment as threats, their stress response is pretty much permanently switched on.
And that’s not good.
We know from the research that continuous activation of the stress response (chronic stress) over a sustained period is bad for our health.
The good news is that the stress response and the relaxation response both cannot be switched on at the same time. When one’s on the other’s off and vice versa. So by activating the relaxation response we can switch off the stress response.
The quickest and easiest way of switching on the relaxation response is through the power of our breath. I’ve written before about the 7/11 Breathing technique which is the very first technique I share with new clients. Here are a couple more simple, quick, use anytime/anywhere techniques that studies have found are effective in helping switch off the stress response.
The 2:1 Breath
According to research 2:1 breathing when practiced on a daily basis results in significant reduction of blood pressure, heart rate, and other stress response indicators.
To practice this technique, find a position with your spine straight and long, whether sitting, standing, or lying down. Breathe out to a mental count of 6, and breathe in to a mental count of 3. You can use any ratio of 2:1 that feels relaxing to you. Do this as little as 5 rounds of breath, or if you want to reap the effects of the research study, up to 7 minutes twice per day.
The Sighing Breath
Studies have found that the sigh you emit that often comes after frustration or sadness significantly decreases the intensity of stress response in anxiety-prone individuals. It is a deceptively simple little technique that has many benefits. It instantly reduces your tension level through temporarily raising your blood CO2 level. A ‘sigh breath’ is a way of interrupting the build-up of physical stress and tension rather than a breathing technique to do over and over again. It gives you something to do when you feel anxious or panicky rather than simply remain a passive victim of your thoughts and moods. It also makes you aware of, and interrupts, the common quite un-useful tendency in anxiety states to simply hold or restrict your breath.
To practice this technique find a position with your spine straight and long, whether sitting, standing, or lying down. Take a slow and deep breath in and then let it all go with a big sigh. You can experiment with different exhalation sounds, quiet and loud, to find the breath that gives you the most relief. Do this sighing breath three to seven times.
I wonder which type of breath you discover helps to diminish your stress response?
Now, imagine how could you integrate one or more of these simple breathing techniques into your everyday life? Perhaps you might do 2-1 breaths when you get in the car, or before bed, or…?
If worry, anxiety or stress are causing problems for you, and you need help, contact me today on 021 056 8389 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org and let's explore how I can help you.
REMEMBER - "When you change your mind you change your life."
Tony helps individuals to harness the power of their mind to achieve success and well-being in life, work and business. Tony's particular area of expertise lies in helping people to 'change their minds' so they gain freedom from worry, anxiety and stress, overcome limiting beliefs and unhelpful habits. Tony’s solution focused approach to coaching uses a range of techniques drawn from the fields of solution focused coaching, neuroscience, positive psychology and clinical hypnosis.