In this moment it can feel as though the world is rapidly changing and full of uncertainty. Our routines have been disrupted, and things around us may seem a bit unfamiliar.
It’s understandable now to feel like we’re under constant stress. That our thoughts and feelings are getting out of control
Have you ever wished that there was some magical way to instantly turn off that stress and take back control of your thoughts and feelings once again?
In a few moments I’ll share with you a simple and effective way to reprogram the way you respond to stressful situations.
Before we go any further, let’s make one thing clear - you’re not broken. That’s right. Your mind and body are doing exactly what they’re designed to do. And they are doing it so well that you can’t help but notice.
To get a better understanding of what’s happening, let’s talk about what stress is, and what it isn’t.
Stress is not the thing or situation that’s bothering you - it isn’t the job, or the virus, or the uncertainty.
The stress response, or “fight or flight” response is the emergency reaction system of the body. It is there to keep you safe in emergencies. The stress response includes physical and emotional responses to your perception of various situations. When the stress response is turned on, you are programmed to respond in certain ways to situations that are viewed as challenging or threatening.
The stress response can work against you. You can turn it on when you don’t really need it, like when you perceive something as an emergency when it’s really not. It can turn on when you are just thinking about past or future events, and even when you’re thinking about things that may or may not happen.
Chronic conditions that are typically harmless can be intensified when the stress response is activated too often, with too much intensity, or for too long. This overreaction puts a strain on the body, weakening the immune system.
As the initial surge of the stress response subsides, the second component of the stress response system, known as the HPA axis begins. This network consists of the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands.
During this second phase of the stress response, hormones signal the HPA axis to keep the sympathetic nervous system — the "gas pedal" — pressed down as long as the subconscious continues to perceive something as dangerous.
When the threat passes, the parasympathetic nervous system applies the brakes, and dampens the stress response.
Many people have a difficult time finding a way to put the brakes on stress. Chronic low-level stress keeps the HPA axis activated, like a motor that is idling too high for too long. After a while, this has an effect on the body that contributes to the health problems associated with chronic stress. Your behaviors and thinking can keep your body’s natural relaxation response from operating at its best.
Now that we have a better understanding of what’s happening in your body, I’ll teach you a simple and easy way to engage the parasympathetic nervous system to break out of that cycle of stress.
Activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System
Getting your body to relax on a daily basis for at least brief periods can help decrease unpleasant stress responses. can help your body’s natural relaxation system be more effective.
The vagus nerve is the longest of the cranial nerves and governs the parasympathetic nervous system. Stimulating the vagus nerve releases acetylcholine that turns off the stress response.
One of the easiest ways to stimulate the vagus nerve is by using abdominal breathing.
In a few minutes, I’ll show you how you can use that breathing technique to reprogram your automatic response to stressful situations, allowing you to feel more calm and more in control more often.
First, I’ll teach you how to use an abdominal breath.
Sit up and push your abdominal muscles - push your belly out - that’s right. Did you notice that as you did that you took a breath in?
That’s because when you push the abdominal muscles out, your diaphragm drops, allowing your lungs to expand.
Now, do it again, and this time, as you push your abdomen out, fill our lungs as deep as you can, as if you’re filling them from the bottom all the way up to the top - that’s right. Now hold it for just a brief second, and let it out nice and easy.
That is an abdominal breath, and it will trigger a parasympathetic - a relaxing response - from the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve is basically listening to the way we breathe, and it sends the brain and whatever message our breathing indicates. Abdominal breathing signals the vagus nerve that blood pressure is becoming too high, and the vagus nerve response by releasing acetylcholine and shutting down the stress response.
Now you can use that abdominal breath in a pattern called square breathing. Square breathing does two things. It uses a deep abdominal breath, triggering the vagus nerve that turns down stress, and it shifts your focus from whatever you’re thinking or worried about to pay attention to your breathing.
Square breathing is simple. Push your abdomen out and take a deep breath in for a count of four. Hold that breath for a count of four. Exhale for a count of four. And hold again for another count of four. Good. You’ll do that four times to complete the set.
As you're doing this with me now, you’re already beginning to notice that your body is beginning to relax, and your mind begins to clear. That’s right.
Practice this throughout the day, at least four times a day. When you’re feeling good, when you’re feeling stressed, the more you do it, the more you are training your mind and body to activate the relaxation response, and the better you feel.
But Wait! There's More!
This is already pretty great - the ability to turn off stress any time you want - though let’s take it one step further. Let’s use this simple technique, and the principles of neuroplasticity, to reprogram your stress response, so that you can keep your stress response from activating to non-emergencies.
Very simply put, neuroplasticity allows the neurons - the brain cells - to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment. When we bring on a stressful experience by recalling a thought or memory of something stressful, then interrupt that response with something different, the brain cells change the way they react to that situation.
Don’t get bogged down by the science - let’s put it into action!
Allow yourself to recall something that happened recently that was very stressful. It could be a thought, a memory, whatever first pops into your mind is perfect. And allow yourself to go into that experience and process some of that in your body. Good
Now, on a scale of 0 - 10, if zero is feeling absolutely fine, and ten is the worst it could possibly be, where is that feeling now? Just make a note of it, Good.
Now, can you turn it up, bring that feeling up even higher? That’s right - notice what you’re experiencing in your body. Good - now, begging your first set of square breathing.
Push your abdomen out, inhale deeply for a count of four, hold it for a count of four, and exhale for a count of four, then hold again for a count of four.
And notice what’s changed. Zero to ten, where is that feeling now? Good.
Now repeat that set of square breathing until you are back down to a zero.
You feel pretty good don’t you? Did you notice that you were able to dissolve that stress from it’s highest point all the way back down to a zero in just a few short minutes? That’s pretty awesome.
Though it’s not the best part! Recall that same memory or experience again now - and notice what’s different…
Does it feel less bothersome? Farther away? Less stressful? That’s right! You’ve changed the way your mind responds to that stress.
Now think of something else that would have stressed you out in the past - and notice what’s different again.
Continue using this simple technique of square breathing and take back control of those parts of your life that felt like they were out of control before.
For more information about this method, or about managing stress and anxiety with hypnosis, connect with me at GreenMountainHypnosis.com