How to Fight Chronic Stress

How to Fight Chronic Stress

2 min read

Let’s face it: Life is stressful. And even small stressors (causes of stress) can snowball over time. This article explains the risks of chronic stress, how to notice its physical signs and strategies to counter its harmful effects.  

What is Chronic Stress?  

Chronic stress is a state of overload. It causes your adrenal glands to release high levels of cortisol and leads to other unwanted side effects. To fully understand, let’s review how stress affects your body, also known as the stress response.  

Work deadlines, being stuck in traffic, and running from danger all trigger the same stress response. Your brain sends signals that cause the release of hormones called epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol into your bloodstream. Adrenaline makes your heart race and ups your blood pressure. Your liver releases glucose (sugar) into your bloodstream, which causes your blood sugar to rise, and you hold onto sodium and water. Cortisol also causes your muscles to become resistant to insulin, which keeps your blood sugar elevated.  

When stress is very brief, these changes can be helpful for survival. But when stress is ongoing, the effects can wreak havoc on your health.   

How Stress Affects the Body

Unrelenting stress can lead to the development of chronic conditions, like type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. This is especially true when stress is coupled with less movement and highly processed, calorie-dense foods.  

At Love.Life, we believe in addressing the root causes of disease, and stress is a big one. If you suffer from chronic stress, consider joining one of our medical or coaching programs for personalized support.

How to Reduce Stress

These four habits help reduce stress and offset its damaging effects.  

  • Create a mindful minute. Bring mindfulness into your life, even for just one minute per day. Begin by simply breathing in and out with awareness. Or focus on more concentrated breathing, such as box breathing, which involves breathing in for 4 counts, holding for 4 counts, breathing out for 4 counts, holding for 4 counts, and repeating.
  • Chill out, literally. Studies show that regularly exposing yourself to water that is 50°F or colder (within reason above freezing) can increase your resilience to stressful events. Start with a 20-30-second cold shower or a cold plunge. Breathe rhythmically throughout cold exposure and work up to 11 minutes total over the course of a week.
  • Practice gratitude. Being grateful is something everyone can benefit from. Three to four times per week write down, text, or say aloud three good things that happened that day and at least one thing you’re grateful for.
  • Get out of your head. Research shows that journaling, making lists, or writing out what’s bothering you can help you objectively look at what you’re struggling with. This practice helps you use your pre-frontal cortex (the CEO of your brain) to confront your thoughts more clearly and let go of circumstances beyond your control.
Which Breathing Technique is Best for Me?

Which Breathing Technique is Best for Me?

4 min read

There are many breathing techniques to choose from with benefits that range from stress reduction to improved mental health. This article explains four breathing approaches to try and why a regular breathing practice may help support your overall health.  

Why is Breathing in a Specific Way Important?  

The first three techniques (4-7-8 Breath, Alternate Nostril Breathing, and Yoga Nidra) are designed to help reduce stress. That’s key because unchecked stress is known to contribute to many health conditions, including depression and heart disease.  

During stressful or anxiety-inducing moments your breathing pace may become quick and shallow. This activates your body’s “fight or flight” response, which over time can weaken immunity, raise blood pressure, and up the risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity. Breathing techniques counter stress by stimulating your body’s “rest and digest” response, which protects your health.  

The final technique called the Wim Hof Method, may help you feel more connected to yourself and to your surroundings and improve feelings of self-fulfillment. We encourage you to explore how each method resonates with you and experiment with when to use them to keep yourself in balance. 

4-7-8 Breath 

This technique, invented by Dr. Andrew Weil, refers to a pattern of breathing that involves inhaling, holding your breath, and then exhaling with specific timing. 

To start, bring the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth until it touches the ridge of tissue behind your front teeth. Your tongue placement will remain here throughout the process. Note that you will exhale through your mouth by pursing your lips and making a “whoosh” sound. Follow these steps to continue:  

  1. Fully exhale through your mouth. 
  2. With your mouth closed, inhale through your nose for 4 counts.
  3. Hold your breath for 7 counts.
  4. Exhale for 8 counts. 

Optimally, practice 4 breathing cycles twice per day.  

Alternate Nostril Breathing 

In Sanskrit, this breathing technique is called nadi shodhana. “Nadi” translates to channel and “shodhana” translates to purifying. Alternate nostril breathing for 15 minutes per day for 6 weeks has been shown to significantly improve stress.  

Practicing nadi shodhana involves using your right hand to guide your breath. You may also rest your index and middle fingers between your eyebrows. Follow these steps to continue: 

  1. Use your thumb to gently close your right nostril. Breathe in for 3 counts through your left nostril. 
  2. Gently close your left nostril with your ring finger. Release your thumb to exhale through your right nostril for 3 counts.
  3. Keep this same hand position to inhale through your right nostril for 3 counts.
  4. Gently close your right nostril with your thumb. Release your ring finger to exhale through your left nostril for 3 counts.
  5. Repeat steps 1-4. 

Yoga Nidra 

The goal of yoga nidra is to reach complete relaxation. In Sanksrit, “yoga” translates to union and “nidra” translates to sleep. Two studies have confirmed measurable changes in the central nervous system and an increase in the “happy hormone” known as dopamine when yoga nidra is practiced for 30 minutes per day for two weeks to 6 months.  

To achieve this practice, which involves a rested mind and body while your consciousness is awake, you can follow a YouTube video or guide yourself through the 10 stages of yoga nidra. To get started, find a restful position. Lie on your back on a yoga mat, blanket, couch, bed, or wherever you feel comfortable. Use pillows and bolsters as needed to support your neck and knees. You may wish to cover your body with a blanket. Here’s how to continue through the steps, according to the yoga scholar Dr. Richard Millar: 

  1. Connect to your heart’s deepest desire: What is your top health goal? Imagine accomplishing this goal and how good it will feel.
  2. Set an intention: What is your reason for practicing today? It can be anything that comes to mind. Center your practice around this reason.
  3. Find your inner resource: This stage is realized when your body can relax into a comfortable, safe space. To help, think of a person, place, or experience that allows you to feel at ease.
  4. Scan your body: Focus your awareness at the top of your head and then progress all the way to the tips of your toes. As you navigate through each body part notice how your body eases into a deeper, relaxed state.
  5. Become aware of your breath: Observe how your body reacts to each breath. Pay attention to the way your belly rises and falls in response to your inhalations and exhalations. Notice that the air is cooler when you inhale, and warmer when you exhale. This awareness can help regulate your breathing.
  6. Welcome your feelings: Label how you feel and be honest. Feelings can be broken down into three categories (positive, negative, and neutral). You don’t need sugarcoat how you feel. Allow yourself to sit with your emotions, as if you are welcoming a friend to sit with you.
  7. Witness your thoughts: This stage is like step 6. Without judgement, notice what you are thinking. You may have positive, negative, or neutral thoughts. As you welcome these thoughts, especially if they are negative, consider how it feels to explore opposing thoughts.
  8. Experience joy: As you exhale, you may feel the warmth of your breath diffusing through your body. If you feel sensations of bliss, happiness, and joy, let them radiate throughout your whole being. 
  9. Observe your “self”: This stage is simply asking…how do you feel? It will allow you to wake up with a sense of connection to your emotions. Tap into your feelings using “I” statements (for example I feel at peace, I feel frustrated, I feel happy). 
  10. Reflect on your practice: As you conclude your practice, again notice how you feel. Take a moment to imagine how you can bring feelings of peace into your everyday life, whether a situation is positive or challenging. Before you open your eyes and transition into a wakeful state, take a moment to focus on gratitude.  

Wim Hof Method 

This method involves hyperventilation followed by periods of holding your breath, which has been shown to improve emotional well-being.  

To practice the Wim Hof Method, start in a relaxed position. Follow these instructions to cycle through the 3 rounds for this technique: 

  1. Round 1: Breathe in for 2 seconds and out for 2 seconds 30 times. After exhaling completely, hold your breath for 30 seconds.
  2. Round 2: Breathe in for 2 seconds and out for 2 seconds 30 times. After exhaling completely, hold your breath for 1 minute.
  3. Round 3: Breathe in for 2 seconds and out for 2 seconds, 30 times. After exhaling completely, hold your breath for 1 minute and 30 seconds.  

Note: If you have concerns about starting a breathing practice or which one is right for you, talk to a medical professional. If you try a breathing technique and you feel the need to stop at any time, ease out of the practice, resume normal breathing, and discuss the experience with your doctor.  

More

Pin It on Pinterest