When you are stressed, either your late for work, trying to meet a deadline, your sympathetic nervous is engaged, increasing your heart rate and speeding up your breath. If you become chronically (long term) stressed this can become a serious issue as elevated cortisol (stress hormone) can be incredibly taxing on your body with a whole list of adverse effects. Therefore, it becomes vital that we recognise these responses and regain control.
Stress is a greatly miss understood concept, I often get told by clients that they are not stressed because they believe stress to be a mental state. Stress is a multifaceted response to pressure and tension being placed on the body. Stress could be anything from: An unhealthy gut, injury, muscle imbalance, hormonal imbalance, poor hydration, work & life stress etc. Regardless of the stressor the body will respond the same with the secretion of cortisol (Stress hormone) and up-regulate your sympathetic nervous system.
Sympathetic vs Parasympathetic Responses
Sympathetic nervous responses
The body speeds up, tenses up and becomes more alert. Functions that are not essential for survival are shut down. Following are the specific reactions of sympathetic nervous system:
• Increase in heart rate
• Dilation of bronchial tubes in the lungs and pupils in the eyes
• Contraction of muscles
• Release of adrenaline from the adrenal gland
• Conversion of glycogen to glucose, to provide energy for the muscles.
• shut down of processes not critical for survival
• Digestive process is put on hold
• Decrease in urinary output
Parasympathetic nervous system
Counterbalances the sympathetic nervous system. It restores the body to a state of calm. The specific responses are:
• Decrease in heart rate
• Constriction of bronchial tubes in the lungs and pupils in the eyes
• Relaxation of muscles
• saliva production: the stomach moves and increases secretions for digestion.
• increase in urinary output
The sympathetic system is extremely vital in the right context but long term stimulations is extremely detrimental to our health as you can see above with all the adverse effects associated with the sympathetic nervous system. Therefore, it is key to intensify stress triggers and put strategies in place to regain control of your system.
Stressed? Just Breathe…….
Reducing stress is as simple as breathing. Breathing has been directly correlated to impacting the parasympathetic nervous system which controls your rest, relax, and digest response. When the parasympathetic system is dominant, your breathing slows, your heart rate drops, your blood pressure lowers as the blood vessels relax, and your body is put into a state of calm and healing.
It is important to note that breathing will only assist with stress short term. Therefore, it is vital that you identify the root of your stress and get on top of it to prevent repeated stimulation.
4 : 7 : 8 Breathing Technique
There are many breathing techniques you can utilise from progressive relaxation to mindfulness to other breathing variations. Though my experience with stressed clients I have found this technique to be best bang for your buck as it doesn’t require much time and can be done anywhere in any position. It is a great tool to have in your back pocket when stress arises, this technique will give you the ability to regain that control over your bodies response. As you would expect a great tool to help induce sleep and to calm your nerves. I often use this technique prior to public speaking to calm my system.
• Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
• Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
• Hold your breath for a count of seven.
• Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
• This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Note If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise up but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice, you can slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply.