When you are driving down a busy intersection with lots of cars and people around you, do you speed up? Or do you slow down? Hopefully, you slow down. By slowing down you tend to feel more in control of the vehicle; thereby eliminating the chance of causing a horrendous accident.
But why is it in life whenever you get in an argument, start feeling tense or anxious, become fearful, or stressed that you speed up! Wouldn’t it be wiser to slow yourself down in those situations much like you did while driving? Instead, you stop listening, speak quicker, blood pressure increases, heart rate races, and mind goes crazy. You are now feeling out-of-control and overwhelmed. You begin to do damage to yourself and others at this point. Why not slow down?
It seems when you feel out-of-control and overwhelmed when driving you slow down, but when you feel out-of-control and overwhelmed in life you speed up! I know it is easier while driving because you have an accelerator and a brake. The accelerator when pushed begins to rev up the engine for action and increases the speed of the vehicle. The brake when initiated begins to slow the vehicle down.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you had an accelerator and brake for you mind and body? Well actually you do! They are called the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems! The Sympathetic Nervous system is much like an accelerator that speeds the mind and body up. When activated, it secretes the stress hormone cortisol and dumps adrenaline in the blood stream thus increasing heart rate and blood pressure and initiating your fight or flight stress responses. This happens automatically when you experience stress, fear, anxiety, overwhelm, and that feeling of being out-of-control; you are being revved up as I discussed earlier.
To slow down, you need to activate your Parasympathetic Nervous system; otherwise known as your mind and body’s brake! This nervous system when activated releases prolactin, vasopressin, and oxytocin, which calm you down. This activation doesn’t happen automatically when you are being revved up, so you need to initiate this brake manually!
How do you manually initiate the brake (Parasympathetic Nervous System)? Quite simply by using a simple breathing exercise I call Brake Breathing, where your exhale is longer than your inhale.
Step one – inhale calmly through the nose while counting in your mind 1 – 2 – 3.
Step two – pause and hold for a count of 1
Step three – exhale slowly and calmly out the mouth while counting in your mind 1-2-3-4-5…
Step four – pause and hold for a count of 1
Then repeat the process until you have fully calmed down.
It is not important how long you inhale and exhale, but very important that the exhale is longer than the inhale. You can begin breathing this way when you feel the need to start slowing down. If you are really revved up, you may need to go through the steps for 5 – 10 minutes before feeling calmed and slowed down. Be sure to concentrate on the counting, this will occupy your mind rather than the mind focusing on what is revving you up!
So, the next time you experience yourself being revved up in life, engage your brake by using Brake breathing for a few minutes and see how much your mood changes.
ABOUT CHRIS SWENSON
Chris Swenson is a licensed therapist who helps people overcome and face life’s most treacherous challenges. His office is located in Sterling, CO. For an appointment please call Chris at (970) 522-0796.
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