Lately, I have experienced heart-racing, stomach-turning signs of stress interrupting my
day and ruining my ability to sleep through the night more times than I can count. I realized I needed to make a change in order to take back my life from the constant stressors. But I wasn't able to remove all of them — hectic workdays, budgeting crises, and disagreements with my significant other will inevitably happen!
I turned to SHIFT, a stress and anxiety workshop lead by Chris Swayne, psychotherapist and lead health coach at One Medical, to learn ways to manage my symptoms for when these moments arise. Along with mastering deep-breathing exercises, Chris taught me that understanding what is happening inside of my body during stress is an important step toward finding the right practice to alleviate stress symptoms once and for all.
Your Body on Stress
When you body perceives a threat — which may come in the form of moving to a new apartment, having a difficult conversation with your significant other, or tightening your budget — it springs into action. Our physiological stress response is also known as "fight or flight", which we humans have been preprogrammed with since our caveman days running from sabertooth tigers.
"During this [fight or flight] response, your body pumps itself with adrenaline and cortisol. You may experience changes to your breathing, tension in major muscle groups, such as your legs and shoulders, and digestive issues like a loss of appetite as your body prioritizes blood flow to areas that mobilize," said Chris. "It can be understood as our biological impulse to survive."
While our fight or flight response can threaten to hijack our day, interventions such as deep breathing exercises and other self-care practices can give you a moment to pause, regulate your heart rate, and calm down.
Deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which "is responsible for certain sensory activities and motor information for movement within the body," according to Medical News Today. "Essentially, it is part of a circuit that links the neck, heart, lungs, and the abdomen to the brain." The vagus nerve sends signals to your brain and body to remind you you're not in imminent danger so you can tackle your day.
While there are a variety of breathing exercises out there, you don't need anything to get started — just yourself. Take a few minutes right now and give it a try.
This article originally published on PopSugar.com by Avery Johnson