You know that feeling don’t you? The stress level is rising. You feel your heart beating faster, the stomach churning, the palms sweating. Your breathing is getting faster and faster, shallower and shallower. You’re on the verge of errupting. The red mist descends, and reason goes out of the window.
You explode. Words are said. Things are done. Later, you think back and start listing the things you wish you had said, the things you wish you hadn’t said, the ways you wish you had handled the situation better. Why do you always think of the right things to say after the event, and say all the wrong things in the heat of the moment?
I promise you, you are not alone. This is the stress response in action.
When you get stressed, your nervous system brings a host of physical and mental reactions to keep you safe from the threat to your wellbeing. This is what the stress response exists for. To keep you alive.
If you are facing a threat to your life, you don’t really want to waste time having an internal debate about the pros and cons of fight or flight – you just want to act. So the stress response helpfully shuts down the logical part of your brain to allow your survival instincts to take charge. This means that the part of your brain that says “You know Emma, maybe you don’t really want to call your boss a ******* and walk out of his office slamming the door behind you” just walks away, giving the part of your brain that thinks that is exactly what you need to do a free rein.
Helpful if you are being attacked by a pack of wolves. Not so helpful if you’re having a challenging meeting at work.
Luckily, there is one simple thing you can do that, if you can remember to do it, can help you avoid many of the problems that stress can cause.
The old wives knew their stuff
The popular ‘old wives tale’ advice given to people when stressed and overwhelmed by emotions is ‘take a deep breath and count to 10’. There is considerable wisdom in this.
When you are in a state of stress or emotional overwhelm, you are slipping into the ‘flight or fight’ response of the sympathetic nervous system. This creates a lot of physical and mental changes to happen almost instantaneously, including some of the responses mentioned above. While it is useful and lifesaving when there is a threat to life, it can cause problems when it kicks in when we really need a different response.
Fortunately, the nervous system also has the ‘parasympathetic nervous system. This gives us the ‘relaxation response’, allowing us to calm the mind and body. You can activate the relaxation response through the breath. This is no mere ‘old wives tale’. The ancient Yogis knew the calming effect of the breath, and modern science has confirmed it. When you slow your breath, you relax your body, relax your mind and activate the relaxation response of the parasympathetic nervous system.
You were born knowing how to do this. Small children breathe fully and deeply, engaging the whole of their lungs, getting the full and varied benefits of the breath. Sadly, as we grow, we learn bad habits and become shallow breathers.
Luckily, you can learn how to breathe well, and transform your wellbeing and resilience to stress.
Relearn what you already know
In this free webinar, I share 5 breathing techniques that can help you to breathe better both in your day to day, and during those difficult moments when you really don’t want to make a challenging situation worse. The webinar is approximately 50 minutes long, and offers you tools that could, if practiced regularly, tranform your happiness and health.
Register now for instant and permanent access to the webinar