inbreath outbreath heart rate variability stress regulation

Regulating Stress

February 2, 2023

Did you know that your heart beat actually gets faster as you breathe in and gets slower as you breathe out? On the in breath your blood pressure increases and it decreases on the out breath. Or at least it should in a healthy and regulated human being. This is known as Heart Rate Variability.

In daily life also there are moments of action and activity, and there are moments of rest and relaxation. Or at least there should be in a healthy human life. The modern world is not very balanced in this respect. How much downtime do you give yourself? Even 5 minute breaks can have positive effects. What activities help you to regulate your nervous system? If you are on the go all the time perhaps its worth asking yourself- What would happen to you if you were breathing in all the time?

You’d burst.

Perhaps it's time for a break?

As parents we are responsible for the life of a developing human being, we are not raising a child we are raising an adult. The way we structure their lives, the ambience in our homes, even our value judgments and subconscious habits will leave a “life-defining” imprint on an impressionable young human being. How many families do you know that pack their children’s lives full of school, extracurricular activities, private tuition, and squeeze into that little bit of free time in the evening: homework, dinner, television and then bed. How many adults do you know that follow similar patterns? Are you one yourself?

I have been living in Spain for 20 years and come to appreciate one of the most advanced human customs in the world, the siesta. In most small towns the shops are closed between 2 and 5 pm, this drives a lot of visitors to the country mad. “What do you mean I have to wait, I need it now!” You may have noticed you feel tired after eating lunch. It is not that you are lazy, although most of us are far too busy to consider having a socially frowned upon midday nap. Many prefer a coffee for desert, a buy now pay later burst of energy, that will see you through the afternoon.

That wave of tiredness is the most healthy expression of a fully functioning nervous system. It is ok to be tired, all working days should include a pause to rest and digest. This is where the body can activate maintenance mode, do the housekeeping, repair and regenerate. If we do not give ourselves time to relax we run the risk of living in a state of chronic stress. This in the long run will lead to burnout, illness or even premature death. Most people today are living in this state without realising it.

Regulation functions of the autonomic nervous system

Our autonomic nervous system has a “dimmer switch” allowing it to move in two directions - UPregulation and DOWNregulation. Let’s say stressed out or chilled out. Somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot of social engagement, where we are on it, calm, centered and friendly. For example that kind of banter you would get as women washed their clothes in the river or if you’ve ever had thai massage the endless chatter as they give you a massage and talk about their family lives. Active, able to work, but socially engaged at the same time. You don’t see much of this in the modern workplace.

Heart Rate Variability is a key indicator of vagal tone (the ability of the vagus nerve to switch on and calm the body down). This is the clutch that allows your nervous system to shift gears, the grease that allows a smooth transition, the motion of the dimmer switch that turns down stress mode and DOWN-regulates after a crisis, argument, disruption or whatever it was that stressed you out. When this function is impaired after long periods of burning the candle at both ends the body gets stuck in chronic stress mode.

Inflammation = on fire

Inflammation is a key indicator of chronic stress, or poor vagal tone. Just look at the word, the meaning is hidden in plain sight: in-flammed, ON FIRE. When you are “in the red” all the time your body cannot carry out essential repairs and absorb the nutrients from food properly. You would not drive your car with the revolutions “in the red” all the time would you? If your bank account was permanently “in the red” you would probably get a call from your bank manager. How would your body communicate to you that you are living “in the red”?

  • Background Irritability, frustration or anger
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Low energy levels
  • Unexplained or frequent "allergy" attacks 
  • Excessive defensiveness or suspiciousness 
  • Light-headedness, faintness, dizziness
  • Brain fog, trouble taking stuff in
  • Base-level anxiety, worry, guilt or nervousness 
  • Digestive issues, belly pain, heartburn, indigestion
  • Your skin feels tight, like body hugging leather trousers

There are many more signs, too many to mention, every body has its own language. What is yours trying to tell you?

Pain is a message, sent in the language of the body, that something is off

If you have been feeling these or other symptoms of chronic stress, how long have you been ignoring the signs? How long would you leave it before you do something? How loud would your body have to shout for you to get the message?

If this resonates with you and you are ready to reset the system, feel free to reach out for a chat. There are ways we can work together, in person and online, to support the regulation of your nervous system.

There are many ways and techniques you can learn to hack the nervous system that don’t entail a major lifestyle change. If your body is calling out for a change, let's have a chat about how to make that change. After all you only get one body, and it's easier to look after it that it is to fix it later.

Let the change begin today.

May you be well, may you be free from suffering.

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