In today’s world, it’s difficult not to be stressed. Whether it’s the pandemic, politics, or personal stressors–– the pressures of everyday life can quickly make anyone feel overwhelmed and exhausted nowadays. Because stress can take a drastic toll on physical and mental health, it’s important to know how to manage it.
When we experience stress, our bodies produce certain hormones that elevate our energy and heighten our alertness. We undergo certain physiological changes, as our bodies prepare to either flee or confront the situation: our breaths quicken; we sweat; our pulses accelerate; our muscles tense up. These reactions are known as the “fight or flight” response, a product of thousands of years of evolution.
During periods of heightened stress, our bodies will switch into high gear and stay in this state. Over time, this reaction can take a toll on our bodies, resulting in a multitude of health issues including anxiety, chronic pain, and inflammation.
Luckily, there are many techniques we can use to counteract the stress response.
One way to decrease the fight or flight response is through the vagus nerve system. The vagus nerve is the tenth cranial nerve connecting our brains to our bodies. It is responsible for regulating internal organ functions, such as digestion, heart rate, and respiratory rate; and can be used to counterbalance the body’s stress response.
One of the main ways to stimulate this nerve and trigger a relaxation response in the body is through slow, deep abdominal breathing. One way to practice this type of breathing is by making your exhalations twice as long as your inhalations. Inhale through your nose for several seconds. Think about expanding your stomach and widening your rib cage while doing so. Count to at least five. Then hold your breath for seven seconds before exhaling through your mouth for ten seconds. Do this 10 times at least twice a day, especially when stressed.