If you read much about stress, you quickly find out that stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The human stress response, or fight-or-flight system, was designed by Mother Nature to be your friend and help you in times of potential trouble. However, if you read on you also learn that, to state it somewhat bluntly, stress can kill you. So there you go; from not being so bad to … it can kill you. That’s not very confusing is it?
In general, the kind of stress triggered by comments such as, “Excuse me, I-see-a-huge-snake-right-beside-your-left-foot” is not too bad for you. That’s exactly what the fight-or-flight system is designed to handle. Without any conscious effort on your part, your sympathetic nervous system places your body on full alert and prepares you to deal effectively with the slithering critter. Everything about this stress-escalating process is very intense, but short-term in nature. When the critter is no longer present, the alarm is called off and everything quickly goes back to normal.
It’s the low-grade, low-level, chronic or persistent stress that creates long-term problems for you. Unfortunately, when low-level stress shows up in your life and stays around for a long period of time, it can do much more damage than something like an unexpected heart-stopping snake scare. I doubt if most of you will encounter too many slithering critters in the typical office environment, but the bad stress seems to be omnipresent in the modern-day workplace. If that’s the case in your situation, here’s an idea. Learn about something called two-to-one breathing.
Ok, I’m going to go all high school biology and yoga on you now. Your autonomic nervous system has two branches, the sympathetic system (previously mentioned) and the parasympathetic system. Whereas the sympathetic system triggers the fight-or-flight response, the parasympathetic system triggers the relaxation response. In a nutshell, the name of the game is learning to manually shift your body from being controlled by your sympathetic to being controlled by your parasympathetic system. There are many ways to do this, but I think one of the easiest is to learn the process of two-to-one breathing.
Here are a few guidelines. Remember, getting close works in this situation, you don’t have to get things perfect. The main thing is: practice exhaling twice as long as you inhale. For extra points, breath through your nose if you can, breathe as silently as possible and let your belly expand rather than your chest when you inhale. Try to breathe at a pace of about 10 to 12 in-and-out breath cycles per minute.
Now let’s get wild and crazy and add some imagery to this process. Imagine inhaling clear, pure air and exhaling toxic black or brown smoke-like air. With each cycle imagine that the toxic air diminishes until it is also clear and pure.
No guarantees, but odds are you will reset your nervous system with this process. And that, my grasshopper friends, is potentially a very cheap fix for bad stress.
Chris Crouch is CEO of DME Training and Consulting and author of several books on improving productivity. Contact him through www.dmetraining.com.