How do we manage stress?
There are numerous ways to change the outcome of stress such as sports and exercise, sex, meditation, floatation tanks, cold & hot exposure, yoga etc, but all of these amazing modalities have one thing in common, how they influence the bodies autonomic nervous system (ANS). Our ANS is automatic in nature and controls bodily functions like heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, sexual arousal, bladder control and respiratory rate. From all the things listed above one stands out clearly, the respiratory rate. Our ANS controls our respiratory system but we can also intentionally control our respiratory rate through breathing.
Through the power of the breath or conscious breathing, we can have influence over our autonomic nervous system thus having control over our body. Within our ANS we have 2 operating systems, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Both very important to help us survive and live. Our sympathetic nervous system is more commonly known as the fight or flight response, it can increase heart rate, increase respiratory rate and get blood and oxygen flowing through the body as fast as we need it. We achieve this by our adrenal gland increasing the supply of cortisol and epinephrine throughout the system. Whenever we find ourselves in states of stress the sympathetic nervous system becomes the majority system in the body to allow for the uptake in what’s perceived in the external world.
When we are constantly bombarded by stress and overloaded with neural information we often find ourselves with an overactive SNS, with worries over TVs, social media, work, family, money and more we don’t have the bandwidth to cater to this information and find ourselves overloaded and losing complete control of our ANS.
The solution is training your parasympathetic nervous system to be called upon when in times of need. Our PNS is responsible for the relaxation response, commonly known as the rest and digest state. It is responsible for relaxing the body and muscles after experiencing stress by slowing heart rate, conserving energy and returning digestion to a calm normal. As spoken about before the autonomic nervous system does not have to autonomic, we can directly influence what state we are in at any given period by controlling our respiratory rate, the depth of the breath and where we breathe from. When we are in high stressed states our breathing becomes short, sharp and shallow. Usually, we find ourselves breathing into the chest and not using our diaphragm to perform full deep calming breaths. A lot of our nerves for the PNS can be found deep in the lungs and cannot be influenced with these short shallow breaths thus activating our SNS and keeping it active. It is completely normal to find ourselves in highly aroused states but the ability to rebalance the nervous system is what is the most important thing. By simply breathing deeply with the diaphragm into the belly, we naturally slow the rate of breath extending the inhalations and exhalations allowing the body to find calmness, this, in turn, releases acetylcholine to lower the heart rate, lower blood pressure, increases oxygen in the body, rebalances the Ph of the blood, releases endorphins and dopamine into the body leaving you feeling as light as a cloud and ready to face any moment with ease.
Breathing is simple, natural, free and very effective. The influence we have over our ANS is incredible and should be used. A simple breath to remember is box breathing (4x4x4x4) it's an inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds and hold for 4 seconds. Whilst practising try breathing through your nose the entire time and use your belly to suck in and expel the air. You can also utilise the Nadhi Shodhana Pranayama practice we have previously talked about in our one of our blogs here https://www.theprivatesea.com.au/post/learning-nadi-shodhana-breathing
How we breathe matters, make them all count.