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Your Best Stress Defense

Most of us don’t even realize how stressed our bodies are.

Our body gets accustomed to living in a chronically stressed state, and the negative health affects you may experience as a result are often blamed on “just getting older”.

It’s the constant, daily, low-grade stress just based on the circumstances of our life that’s causing us to not feel well. In fact, we now know that stress is the main underlying factor in the majority of lifestyle diseases today.

Here’s why: while our minds can perceive and differentiate stressful situations, our bodies can’t. Meaning, our minds know the difference between needing to run away from a tiger and being cut off on the highway. But our bodies perceive them equally and thus respond equally the same way.

That's because your body has only one stress response. It reacts to all stressors (whether real or imagined) in the exact same way—by activating the sympathetic branch of your nervous system known as “fight or flight mode”. Every time we are stressed, our bodies automatically enter fight or flight mode, getting us ready, for instance, to either engage in battle or run away from it.

Breathing is one of the best ways to combat the chronic stress response.  That's because it activates the parasympathetic response - the "rest and digest mode".

Here's how:

The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique

Oxygen intake is incredibly critical for efficient and consistent energy generation. This breathing technique helps to increase oxygen intake and, more importantly, helps to instantly calm your nervous system so that, even when your mind perceives stress, your body doesn’t signal the stress response.

There is a lot of evidence that shows that when you double the count of your exhale vs. inhale, it calms the vagus nerve, one of the main connections between the brain and the body.  This allows the body to remain calm, not activate the stress response, even though your brain is stressed out.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth, right behind your front teeth.
  • Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4.
  • Hold your breath for a count of 7.
  • Breathe out your nose for a count of 8.
  • Repeat 3 to 4 times. Resume normal breathing and activity.

The 4-7-8 can be done whenever you perceive a stressful moment. It can also be scheduled during the day to help your body retrain its stress response. Set a reminder on your smartphone when you’ll incorporate the technique throughout the day (i.e., it can be done hourly or 3 times per day).

Add some humming

Research has shown humming helps reduce stress and induce calmness as well as lower heart rate and blood pressure and produce powerful neurochemicals such as oxytocin.

It's easy to add it to the 4-7-8 or just doubling your exhale:

  • Inhale through your nose to the count of 2.
  • Exhale by humming with your mouth closed for the count of 4.
  • Repeat until you feel better. If it's comfortable, take the breathing pattern up to 3 and 6 or 4 and 8. The most important part is your doubling your exhale from your inhale.
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