Plain and simple stress sucks. It is without a doubt an anchor weighing you down from wellness. Stress is a normal part of life and in fact short intense stressors like exercise, heat, and cold can actually be extremely beneficial to your health (these can be talked about down the road). The focus of this article (article?? who am I kidding it's a blog as I am just your everyday regular guy) is stress and anxiety and how to cope with them in normal everyday life. Nerd alert: Stress is defined as a state of mental or emotional strain resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances (i.e. work, bills, kids, what funny giph to send to your friends, struggle is real). Humans are creatures of habit and the habit loop is very powerful. The brain wants to dump things off to the subconscious so it can be free to do other tasks (hence the Tiger King craze). The problem is this can create and accelerate anxiety. Case in point Debby gets stressed at work when Jane calls because Jane is all drama (I don't know something about her ex husband). So Debby creates a mental pathway that invites anxiety because the habit is beginning to form. Jane calls Debby, Debby gets stressed, and every time Jane calls that stress gets worse and worse and soon that becomes her default setting when the phone rings in general (bummer). The brain is like a snow hill that has not been used but once you start sledding grooves and paths get created and before you know it you fall right into these paths (i.e. Jane calls, boom stress through the roof). For stressors such as these you want to take it from the subconscious to the conscious, break that loop by creating another one. First try to change the cue, if you can't change the cue like in this situation where your phone is always going to ring, you must change the reaction to the cue (i.e. phone rings, do "x"). There are many things you can do to destress and do them as long as they are legal, but the most effective de-stressor is breathwork. Using breathwork can lessen or stop the anxiety and get your mind sledding down a new hill so to speak. This technique can work with any stressor; as you age and get married, have kids, and a career that you will spend the next 25 years of your life at; your life falls into a daily predictable pattern. Through these patterns and habits anxieties become part of daily life. To use a similar analogy from above (just really hammering home this point) when these anxiety habits start it is like creating a path in the woods. First it is tough making your own path, then day by day you keep going down the same anxiety path, the path becomes a trail, then a dirt walkway, and eventually that pathway becomes a paved road you go down without thinking and with rapid speed (think the Autobahn in Europe). The thing people don't realize once they start driving down anxiety road is that their body adapts to their new "normal" and that new anxiety ridden normal is very far from what "normal" should be. Eventually as you keep taking that path you will end up close to having panic attacks or a nervous breakdown (all the while physiologically your insides are being ravaged). There is an extremely strong correlation between bad breathers (simply put you breath with your upper chest and probably through your mouth) and anxiety. I'm not here to nerd out on the science but the one thing that connects your subconscious to your conscious is your breath and the best way to control your stress is through breathwork. There are tons of breathing exercises on the interweb and honestly any and all can work as each individual is different. Trying to keep things as concise as possible I'll just give you some options below:
1. Nose Breathing- Easiest and most important is to consciously breath through your nose, your nose is connected to your diaphragm which is connected to the emotional part of your brain and gets you into a parasympathetic state (rest and digest).
2. The 4-7-8 technique- Inhale for 4 seconds, Hold for 7 seconds, Exhale for 8 seconds (inhales and exhales are through the nose). 4 rounds of it will suffice.
3. Box Breathing- Inhale for 4 seconds, Hold for 4 seconds, Exhale for 4 seconds, Hold for 4 seconds, repeat for a minimum of 3 rounds.
You are probably thinking "Alright now what? when do I use it?" These techniques can be used in any and all situations. Case in point, Debby's phone rings it's Jane but before she picks up Debby utilizes the 4-7-8 technique or at the very least a couple focused nose breaths with an extended exhale. These techniques can be used first thing in the morning, before bed, lunch break, your drive home, and so on. Side note on driving, there are a lot of studies that show the more miles you commute literally takes more time off your life because of the stress of traffic (Right now the Covid-19 is taking care of your commute). I strongly recommend using a technique while on your commute, it is imperative if you want to lessen stress and anxiety. Each individual is different and preferably you want to do one in the morning to set your day and then use the techniques throughout your day. Figure out your cues' and try to incorporate the breathwork to lessen the anxiety of that cue or once you feel stressed out mitigate the stress using a technique after the fact.
Other things to help with stress not breathing:
- Good nights sleep (I'll blog about it soon)
- Get out in the sunlight for a half hour minimum (prefer hour minimum, the sun is incredible)
- Before you sleep write down all the problems of the day to get them out of your head (i.e. my son pulled down his pants and peed on his floor... which he did)
- Follow by writing down your to do list for the next day so your not thinking about it (i.e. stop my son from writing on all of the walls, Picasso he is not at least not yet)
- Socialize- just being around and talking to people improves stress and anxiety (Social Distance of course though 10 ft. minimum)
- Get up a little earlier than your kids so you don't feel overwhelmed from the word go
- Exercise- find something you like and do it, endless articles on the positive effect exercise has on anxiety and stress
- Obviously the most popular is having a cold one, which I partake in but DO NOT have that as your crutch and only de-stressor, not good.
I did not mention meditation because I will blog about meditation next but yes it is incredible.