Some days, stress seems to arrive by the busload. The car broke down, the kids are screaming, your boss is hounding you, and the holiday credit card bills are coming — it’s just too much to handle. And as much as you try to convince yourself to calm down and just get focused on the task in front of you — you know, the old anti-stress pep talk – the anxiety only seems to build.
Well, I really hate to burst your bubble on this one but you actually can’t “talk” yourself out of being stressed. Allow me explain.
When we experience stress — whether it’s caused by a physical or psychological threat — the body’s stress response (“fight or flight”) is triggered to deal with the stressor, ultimately in the hopes of returning our bodies to a state of balance.
This stress response causes our heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate to rise as our bodies begin to rapidly consume stored resources. All processes which aren’t absolutely essential at that moment are stopped — like digestion, growth and immune system functioning.
It’s truly a remarkable system we have. The problem is — unlike every other animal — our stress response doesn’t automatically shut off. Think about it: when an animal encounters a predator, its stress response is triggered which allows it to run fast enough to escape but then it just sorta goes about it’s business — eating grass and whatnot — having all it’s systems returned to normal when the threat has passed.
Humans — on the other hand — well, we stew and worry and the stress response just keeps rolling as we try like hell to go about our day. Guess what happens if you never shut this process down after stressful situations?
For starters, you become chronically drained of energy, plagued by digestive issues and frequently find yourself sick. In the long-term, your blood pressure will soar and your poor heart will get worn out from overuse. Any of that sounding familiar?
As much as we’d like to believe that we’ve got the power to talk ourselves out of being stressed, the only way to shut down the stress response is by interrupting the physical response that’s occurring in your body. The easiest way to accomplish this is through movement and breathing exercises.
So, the next time you find yourself consumed by stress, do yourself — and your poor body — a favor and try this super-simple breathing technique.
How to Stop Stress in 5 Minutes (or Less)
- Sit up tall in your seat or against a wall and close your eyes.
- Without trying to change anything about it, bring your attention to your breathing. Just notice it. How hard is it? How fast is it? Is your exhale longer than your inhale or vice versa?
- Then, count as you take an inhale through your nose.
- Begin to slow each exhale so that it lasts 3 counts longer than the inhale before it. (For example, if your inhale took to the count of 3 then your exhale should be for a count of 6.) With each exhale, let your body soften.
- Repeat for a total of 10 controlled breaths through your nose.
- Sit quietly for few moments and let your breathing return to normal before slowly opening your eyes.
Isn’t it amazing what a few breaths can do for your sanity? —Alison