Keep calm and carry on
Have the holidays got you a bit stressed?
Then before you do anything else, right now, take a deep breath. Then another. Then another.
Feel better? Maybe not. Three deep breaths can’t undo the cumulative pressures of a harried season.
But in fact, those breaths probably did have some small effect on your stress response.
And if you put those breaths together with a few more deep breaths, and you do it two or three times each day, then you really will help calm your stress level throughout this season and every season.
In a recent NPR interview, Esther Sternberg, M.D., described the way deep breathing relieves stress.
Dr. Sternberg compared the body’s stress response to a car going 120 MPH. This powerful reaction releases specific chemicals and hormones in your brain. And that actually helps you protect yourself when you sense danger.
But when those chemicals and hormones remain at high levels, they can impair your immune system.
Dr. Sternberg: “When you are stressed, you have your foot on the gas, pedal to the floor. When you take slow, deep breaths, that is what is engaging the brake.”
Deep abdominal breathing alleviates stress by stimulating the vagus nerve–the main nerve of the relaxation response. An important chemical compound called acetylcholine is activated when the vagus is stimulated. The vagus uses this neurotransmitter to relax your body and reduce inflammation.
Recent research has shown that the vagus nerve also stimulates stem cells to repair brain tissue damaged by inflammation.
I don’t know about you, but while reading about this response to deep breathing, I found myself sitting up a little straighter in order to take a few deep, satisfying breaths.
Feels good, doesn’t it?
“Just Breathe: Body Has A Built-In Stress Reliever” Gretchen Cuda, NPR, 12/6/10, npr.org