By Jamie Clements
For many of us, feelings of stress, anxiety, and overwhelm have become the norm over the last few years and we are all finding it increasingly more difficult to switch off and feel a true sense of calm.
At the very core of these issues is a dysregulated nervous system – the part of your brain that controls your thoughts and direct responses to the world around you. The part of our nervous system that manages stress and relaxation is made up of our sympathetic (fight or flight) mode and our parasympathetic (rest and digest) mode. Our body and mind feel most relaxed when in the ‘rest and digest’ setting, and when we spend too much time in fight/flight mode, we end up in a state of hypervigilance leading us to become overly stressed and anxious.
This can quickly become our default state and make it all the more difficult to switch off properly as we’re constantly processing stress. We could be sat watching tv at the end of the day, but our nervous system is still firing on all cylinders, producing adrenaline and cortisol, which never let us truly relax. So, what can we do about this? Your breath is one of the most simple and accessible means to manage and regulate your stress response – it’s also a tool you can use anywhere, whether you’re on-the-go, at the office, or getting ready for bed.
Through simple breathing practices, you can switch off more effectively and get the proper rest that you need, this allows you to achieve a truly relaxed state-of-mind and be prepared for any of the challenges the day might throw at you. One of the easiest ways to activate your rest and digest response is by making your exhale longer than your inhale, for example, breathing in through your nose for a count of three and exhaling through your mouth slowly for a count of six.
Another great exercise to try is box breathing – inhale through your nose for four, hold for four, exhale out of the nose for four and hold for four. Repeat both for as long as you need and notice your mind and body thanking you for allowing them to really relax as your heartrate begins to slow and thoughts become that little bit clearer.
Jamie Clements is founder of The Breath Space and host of the Unwind for Total Relaxation series on the MindLabs Mindfullness app.