Make your stupid nerves work for you...
Do you ever find yourself getting so stressed out about tomorrow or the week ahead that you can barely concentrate on what you’re doing, or on the person you’re speaking to?
If so, you could benefit from 'mindfulness'. You’ve likely heard about it already, but if you’re hesitant to try it, here’s some info on the physiology of mindful breathing and why it’s so good for you.
Your nervous system is divided into two parts: the conscious part and the sub-conscious part. The latter also has two parts and they are the sympathetic and the parasympathetic systems.
When you’re stressed, anxious or fearful, your sympathetic nervous system kicks in, increasing your blood pressure, releasing stress hormones and making your breathing faster and shallower. If we think in 'paleo' terms you needed this to hunt down prey and run away from the things that could prey on you.
We still need this system to survive, but the problem is that many of us spend far too much time in this 'frazzled' state because of the non-stop stresses of our full days.
Your parasympathetic system is here to help
Luckily, we also have a parasympathetic nervous system. This system is responsible for relaxing you, turning off the flow of stress hormones and lowering your heart rate. Again, we can think of this as the system that activated when your caveman ancestor sat in the cave digesting his well-earned dinner.
However, in the absence of a roaring fire and the constant blue hue emitted from screens of all sizes we may find it difficult to get this system to kick in enough these days.
But because the system is a bit 'stupid' there is a simple way to activate it right now. We can trick the subconscious nervous system to think we are indeed in a safe and relaxing environment:
Sit down in a quiet space. Then close your eyes and bring your attention to yo
ur breath. Concentrate on the space between each inhalation and exhalation. Focus on your breath as it flows in and out.
In no time, your parasympathetic system will kick in, helping you to be more present and to enjoy a calmer, more harmonious day.
Most mindful activities are based on this principle. Of course ideally you should also try to create time and conditions that are cave-like for you, rather than relying on tricking your systems whenever the stress gets to you.
Did someone say 'hygge'...?