Once upon a time, our Autonomic Nervous System saved our skin on a daily basis.
The fight or flight response was much more useful back when most stressors were giant bloodthirsty predators. Nowadays, our stressors are bills, traffic, ringing phones, and prolonged periods of work stress.
The problem is, our fight or flight response reacts to all these new triggers the same way. Our nervous system can't assess where your stress comes from and give a metered response depending on the kind of stressor. It's all or nothing. Even worse, prolonged stress responses create a web of negative effects.
Learn to manage your stress responses or instead of saving your life, they may accidentally destroy it.
HOW YOUR AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM WORKS
Your autonomic nervous system is responsible for most of your unconscious functions. Breathing, circulation, organ and gland function are just a few of the great responsibilities of the ANS. We have this system to thank for eliminating the need to consciously remember to breathe and blink every few seconds.
Beyond these background bodily functions, there are two sides to your autonomic nervous system. The sympathetic system is more commonly referred to as your flight or flight response. Your parasympathetic system is responsible for rest and recovery.
While these seem like opposing systems, they are two parts of the same stress response cycle. There are basically 8 steps from the beginning of the cycle to recovery. Response steps 1-4 happen quickly so we can flee or beat up the threat. Recovery steps 5-8 happen more gradually or, if the stress persists, not at all.
THE PROBLEM IS....
Due to the nature of modern life, we experience constant (seemingly) low-stress problems. We end up in fight or flight purgatory, never getting the chance to reach the second half of the stress cycle where we actually calm down and recover.
STOP BEING SO SYMPATHETIC.
The trick is getting through your sympathetic system to the parasympathetic.
Unfortunately, it's impossible to avoid triggering your stress response altogether. Everyone responds instinctually to different triggers at different times.
Once the stress is experienced, it is possible to manipulate your breathing, bringing you through to the parasympathetic side of the ANS.
Here is a tried and true exercise that will help your breath your way to relaxation.
Fun posture fact: Stress responses almost always result in a extended posture with your chest puffed out and low back arched. By reversing this posture to a more flexed position, you can help yourself reach a parasympathetic state more easily.
For that reason, this exercise requires you to tuck your tail (posterior pelvic tilt) and hunch your upper back (kyphosis) slightly.
Perform this exercise for 5 - 10 breaths. Inhale for a count of 5 or 6, hold for 2, exhale for 10-12.
NO MORE BURNOUT
Avoiding stress may be impossible, but having the tools to manage your Autonomic Nervous System will go a long way to avoiding the negative side effects of chronic stress.
Rest and recovery are the key to success in the gym, at work, and in life.
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