João Freitas

The following is a guide on how to behave when we feel stressed and anxious. The author describes how humans live in two modes (relaxed and action), and how each one relate to stress and anxiety. It’s a really cool guide that I believe helps controlling stress levels.

I find it funny that the article is about controlling stress and anxiety, but the author presents an existential crisis question by saying:

BTW are you your brain or are you something different over your brain?

The last issue was about resting well after a lot of work. That’s what I did the last week. But what can you do when you are stressed while working? Or before an important event? That’s where you need to learn how to manage your stress response.

In this issue:

stressed girl sitting alone

Photo by Keenan Constance from Pexels

There are two basic ways of how human beings live:

  1. Relaxed mode
  2. Action mode

Relaxed mode focuses on our long-term survival. Normally, we just want to rest and digest. This is what the relaxed mode of being is. It is controlled by the Parasympathetic nervous system. This part of the nervous system controls our saliva-producing glands, nerves in the stomach, nerves in the bladder among other things. It controls our normal way of being.

Action mode focuses on surviving a danger right now. This is the fight or flight mechanism that our brain when it is in an adverse situation. The response is driven by the sympathetic nervous system. It drives up your heart rate, raises blood pressure, dilates your pupil among other things.[2]

If you look at the stress response of our body, which includes dilated pupils, higher heart rate, blood flow restricted to our digestive system, higher perspiration, dry mouth, you will realize how it is a switch from parasympathetic to sympathetic nervous system. Our long-term survival does not matter at that instant, it is more important to survive this moment of danger. Our body does not need to eat and digest right now so our brain tells the body to stop producing saliva for a while and focus on the thing at hand.

If you look at it, fear hijacks your mind at this point. Telling your mind that it is not an issue is not really going to help you.

If you think that it is problematic, then it is not entirely correct. This response is not a bug, but rather a feature. Your thinking brain makes better objective decisions but it is slow. In front of an approaching tiger, you are not going to sit and calculate its velocity and direction of motion to decide the best possible time to run. You just need to run. This is where this stress response is useful. It makes you more focused and lets you make decisions quickly.

But in the case of a school or an office presentation, you surely do not need higher perspiration, dilated pupils, and a dry mouth. It will be fine enough to present while also digesting the last meal you had.

This is where you need to learn how to manage your fear and stress.

Your brain thought that this is a stressful situation and flips to the sympathetic nervous system. Now you again want to flip the switch to the relaxed mode of being because you think your brain is not good at identifying situations (BTW are you your brain or are you something different over your brain?).

How to not be stressed?

Are you stressed? Just calm down lol.

Well seriously, you need to tell your brain that this is a normal thing and nothing to worry about. To do that, you can make the environment feel more normal. If the brain finds that something is a normal routine for you, then it stops getting stressed about it.

When you first learned to ride a bike, you must have experienced a lot of fear. Over time, this fear subsided and now you cycle as if it is a part of your body. Similar experiences occur for people who were first afraid of public speaking but once they start speaking more frequently, the fear started waning away.

Moral of the story: do what you are afraid of more frequently.

How to turn off your stress response?

But what if you are stressed already?

Again, ask your body to calm down. Here are some techniques that might help:

  1. Listening to music
    This is a passive method of calming yourself down. Music can hugely affect your brain. Listening to calming music reduces your heart rate and makes you calmer.
  2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
    A more active form of relaxation, PMR is the practice of tensing one muscle group of your body at a time and then relaxing it. It can be very helpful in reducing stress and anxiety. Useful if you have some time and can lie or sit down.
  3. Rhythmic Breathing
    In rhythmic breathing, you breathe in and out in a certain rhythm that helps in calming down your body and reducing the effects of your stress response. There are multiple breathing techniques such as 4-7-8 breathing (breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, breathe out for 8 seconds) [4], Box breathing, or 4-4-4-4 breathing (breathe in, hold, breathe out, hold each for 4 seconds). Anulom-vilom and kapalbhati are also some pranayama that focus on rhythmic breathing and help you calm down.
  4. Mindfulness meditation
    Mindfulness is an immense tool to relieve stress and manage anxiety. You can learn to practice mindfulness using many mobile apps (such as Headspace, Atom, Simple Habit) or even YouTube videos.

Limiting Worry

How do you limit worrying in the first place? Here are some actionable steps.

What next?

Whenever you feel stressed or worried about anything, try doing one of these exercises and see how it feels. I would recommend practicing one or two of these exercises every day so that you know how to use them when you are actually stressed. My recommendation would be Progressive Muscle Relaxation and rhythmic breathing since they are both easy to do, and you can feel them calming you down.

Let me know if you practice any of them or any other exercise to calm yourself.







Closing Thoughts

If you like this issue, you can read the rest of them here on my website.

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#reads #prashant sengar #psychology #stress #anxiety