The holidays can be a stressful time of year, but many of us are experiencing stress year-round. Some of us are so stressed that we don’t even realize we’re stressed and think it’s a “normal” way of being. Ack!
As an acupuncturist, I see case after case of disease and disharmony in the body that’s caused by, you guessed it, STRESS.
I cannot STRESS to you enough the importance of banishing stress from your life as much as possible. As I tell many of my patients, it’s totally possible to be busy and not stressed. You can still get a lot done, in fact you can get even more done, when you are operating from a calm, centered, energy efficient state of mind.
Here’s how I do it:
Throughout the day, every time I take a sip of water I stop for a few seconds, take a deep belly breath and say to myself, “Hello, Josie. Are you in “fight or flight” mode right now? Or are you in “rest and relaxation” mode? I answer — honestly — and adjust my energy and mindset if necessary.
For all you science geeks out there (me!) there are two branches of your nervous system: your central nervous system (CNS) that we have conscious control over, like choosing to move your arm. And then there’s your autonomic nervous system (ANS) that we have no conscious control over, like digestion. We don’t have to say to our stomachs, “okay, time to digest!”
It’s your ANS that dictates your “fight or flight” response (feeling stressed) or your “rest and relaxation” response (feeling relaxed). So, how do you switch from being stressed to being relaxed if we have no conscious control over our ANS? (You might ask.)
There’s a loophole!
Our breath. The one aspect of our ANS that we DO have conscious control over is our breath. So, if you’re checking in with yourself and the answer to your question is, “I’m in fight or flight mode,” take a minute to consciously change your breathing pattern to activate your “rest and relaxation” response.
Here’s how you do it:
Put one hand on your belly, and when you take a breath in, make your belly go out. When you exhale, your hand should go back down and your belly back in. At first, this might be easier to feel lying down.
You’ll notice this is probably the exact opposite of how you’ve been breathing most of your life. You’ve probably been breathing in, sucking in your belly and inflating your chest, am I right?
Once you’ve mastered this “belly breath,” that should just take a few seconds–Congratulations! You’ve successfully accessed your parasympathetic nervous system and activated your “rest and relaxation” response! Wasn’t that easy?
To summarize, here are the 5 easy steps to banish stress from your life for good:
1) Choose a trigger to remind yourself to check in and see if you’re stressed. (For me, it’s taking a sip of water.)
2) Ask yourself, “Is my heart rate up, are my breaths shallow, am I anxious?” (fight or flight response) or “Am I calm, relaxed, and blissful?” (rest and relaxation response).
3) If your answer is “yes” or “no” respectively to the questions above, place your hand on your belly and inflate it as you take a breath in. Repeat for a few breaths.
4) Go about your day, and keep in mind that you can be busy and not stressed.
5) Do this exercise again the next time you take a sip of water, or do whatever your “trigger” is.
Registration opens TODAY for my popular online nutrition program where we delve into topics like this one and much more. (Guess how stress affects weight loss and digestion?) For more details, click here.
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Photo: Sean Rogers1