• How to reduce stress 60 seconds at a time

    June 15, 2016 | curtrosengren
  • Pause and breathe

    Do you find yourself spinning wildly through your day, running at Mach 10 through your to-do list until you hit the end and think, where the hell did this day go?

    Mach 10 busyness is a function of how much we try to pack into our days, but it’s also a function of habit. We’re so used to going-going-going that we almost forget what it’s like to slow down.

    A constant state of Mach 10 busyness can make life feel miserable. The two continuums in The Aliveness CODE are from “constricted to open” and “drained to energized.” Over time, that persistent state of going can push you ever further in the direction of both constricted (e.g., stressed) and drained (e.g., just flat out exhausted).

    Pause and breathe

    What to do? One superbly doable option is to develop a 60-second breath break habit.

    It couldn’t be simpler. For sixty seconds, just slow down and focus on your breath. Let whatever you’re doing fall to the side for that brief time.

    Breathe slowly and deeply. Focus on the sensation as the air goes in and out of your body. Maybe the focus is on the air as it enters and leaves your nose. Or perhaps it’s on the experience of your chest expanding as you breathe in.

    Do this once an hour throughout your day. Set an hourly notification on your phone or your computer to help you remember.

    Benefits of breath breaks

    Making a 60-second breath break a regular habit has several benefits. First and most obvious is that it creates a regular pause in the momentum of your Mach 10 busyness. Left unchecked, that momentum can feed itself in a never-ending upward spiral. Pausing can help you remember to slow down.

    Deep, slow breathing also kicks your parasympathetic nervous system into gear. In a nutshell, your parasympathetic nervous system is what tells your body, “Hey, it’s all good. You can chill out.” It’s what tells you it’s all right to relax.

    Its counterpart, the sympathetic nervous system, is what triggers the fight, flight, or freeze response. When you’re feeling the stress of non-stop Mach 10 busyness, it’s a safe bet the sympathetic nervous system is the one in play. And not only does that feel crappy, it’s hell on your body.

    Finally, deep breathing gives your body more of the oxygen it needs. Most of us, if someone tapped us on the shoulder randomly during the day and asked, “How deep is your breathing?” would realize that it’s pretty shallow. That means our body isn’t getting as much oxygen as it needs, and it’s not expelling sufficient waste from the lungs.

    What I love most about an hourly 60-second breath break is that it so so doable, even for the busiest people. Slowing down and breathing helps you feel less stressed, helps you break the cycle of habitual busy stress, and helps you feel better during the other 59 minutes.

    Try this:

    Do a 60-second breath break experiment for the next week. Set an hourly timer on your phone and when it goes off, pause and focus on your breath.

    Pay attention to how it feels. Notice if it slows you down, or takes the edge of the stress you feel.

    If you like it, keep going. Make it a regular habit.

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