Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you feel threatened, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which rouse the body for emergency action. Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, speed your reaction time, and enhance your focus. This is known as the “fight or flight” response and is your body’s way of protecting you.
There is an optimal amount of stress that will in fact help you to stay focused, energetic and alert. When stress is within your comfort zone, it can help you to stay focused, energetic, and alert. In emergency situations, stress can save your life—giving you extra strength to defend yourself, for example, or spurring you to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident. Stress can also help you rise to meet challenges. Stress is what keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work, sharpens your concentration when you’re attempting the game-winning free throw, or drives you to study for an exam when you'd rather be watching TV. But beyond your comfort zone, stress stops being helpful and can start causing major damage to your mind and body.
There are numerous emotional and physical disorders that have been linked to stress including depression, anxiety, heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, immune system disturbances that increase susceptibility to infections, a host of viral linked disorders including the common cold as well as autoimmune diseases. In addition stress can have direct effects on the skin, the gastrointestinal system and can contribute to insomnia and degenerative neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease.
But, you are in charge of your mind and therefore your life! You can chose to adopt simple techniques that will bust your stress in less than 5 minutes! It can be quick and easy to bring yourself back into balance and I will show you how! But first, I'd like for you to imagine that you put a pot of water on the stove and turn the heat up. There are a few scenarios I'd like you to consider.
First, add some low level heat that just allows the water to warm just slightly - you may notice that not much happens... but over time, if you leave the water at that low level, it will eventually evaporate (though it will take quite a while).
Now, turn up the heat and have that pot simmer - not so much heat or pressure that it boils, but just enough to have it at a constant simmer. This is how many of us live! The stress of poor nutrition (yes, I mean processed foods and sugars) added to the lack of exercise, the stress of managing a family or being stuck in traffic, the stress of finances or not enough time to do everything, the stress of running a household and the stress of our jobs. All of that just leaves us simmering on the stove. And that water, evaporates much quicker than the one at just a low level.
Now, turn up the heat! Get that water boiling! Maybe its a sick child or an infection or a deadline at work or you lose your job or someone else you love gets sick and suddenly the pot is boiling over and becomes empty - completely depleted!
Imagine that water is your ability to cope. It doesn't matter whether you have it warming slowly or boiling rapidly, if you allow the water to get even close to empty, you may begin to notice overwhelm, exhaustion, illness, anxiety and depression. But if you just remove the pot for 5 minutes, refill it with water before adding it back to the stove - it will always have enough water in it. And you will always have enough resilience and the ability to manage your stress.
So, how do you cool that pot and refill it in just 5 minutes? Take control of your autonomic nervous system in the one way that you can - using your breath! Long breaths in and short breaths out will increase your stress, long slow breaths out will decrease your stress and nice even breaths will bring you back into balance.
To begin - take a few nice deep breathes in through your nose and then slowly exhale - letting all of the air out. Do this for 3-5 deep breaths and then slowly bring your breath back into balance. Depending on how used to deep breathing you are - you may only be able to breath in deeply for 3 seconds (or up to 6-8)! If you need some guidance, use the clock below. Breath in for 3 seconds and out for 3 seconds (or in on the blue, out on the green). You can also increase the time to 6 seconds and use the blue or green to indicate a change in inhale or exhale.
Just 5 minutes of this balanced breathing can have a massive shift in your internal physiology - reducing adrenalin and cortisol and reducing all of the above mentioned stress related symptoms. It's even better if you do it a few times a day!
Give it a try and let me know what you notice after just a few minutes!