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Flipping the switch on stress (DW#680)

Let us talk some more about how our breathing is related to our stress levels.

As you may know, our nervous systems have two parts: the parasympathetic nervous system(PNS) and thesympathetic nervous system(SNS). The parasympathetic system takes care of the "rest and digest" side of things while the sympathetic system takes care of "fight or flight" stuff. In short, we have the relaxation response and the stress response.

We obviously need both and each have an important role to play in our functioning and wellbeing.

Here is the problem though: modern life has thrown us into a near-constant state of arousal and hypervigilance and for most of us, our sympathetic nervous system works overtime, leading to all stress, dysfunction and burnout. In other words, our PNS and SNS become unbalanced, one working overtime and other lying dormant.

How can we learn to balance these two for optimal wellbeing?

The fastest and simplest way is to become intentional about breathing.

Try this now:

Take a...

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Exhale for longer (DW#679)

We have all heard the term: take a deep breath when you are stressed. And so, we do. And wonder why it does not work to calm us down.

It is because we only focus on the inbreath and do not pay attention to the outbreath.

If we are not exhaling properly, not only can we not calm down, we are also not detoxifying fully. Did you know that breathing is responsible for 70% of our body’s detoxification? Compared to this, elimination and sweat only take care of only 30%!

And when we do not detoxify properly, we are not fueling our cells properly. This pattern results in compromised wellbeing on many different levels.

So, go ahead: squeeze your diaphragm. Make sure to get all the air out before your next inbreath. Focus on the exhale and the inhale will almost take care of itself.

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Breathe deeply (DW#678)

The second rule of optimal breathing is to breathe deeply.

When we are stressed, our breath becomes very shallow, reaching only until our chest. When we breathe like this, it is a signal to the body to be on high alert.

Breathing like this fuels the flight or fight mechanism of our nervous system. We body gets more tense and we cannot relax. If we are in a situation of danger this mechanism really helps us by driving the oxygen and energy where it is needed, to our arms and legs: to fight the situation or to run away from danger. It does this by turning the energy away from organs that do not need it in the present situation . . .our brains, the digestive system, the lymphatic system that repairs the body.

Breathings shallow is less than useful (and destructive) when there is no danger or only imagined danger.

This is why it is important to practice breathing deeply.

So, go ahead and use your diaphragm – an important and much underutilized muscle in our body.

Fill up the lower...

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Breathe Through Your Nose (all the time!) (DW#677)

The first rule of optimal breathing is to breathe through your nose. All the time. Yes, even when working out and sleeping!

Here’s why:

1) Our nose filters, humidifies and conditions the air we breathe in ways that our mouth simply is not designed to do.

2) Our ancestors did not breathe through their mouth except when they were in danger or under the most extreme instances of physical exertion. For example, when they were being chased by tigers or being hunted for food!

3) We tend to "overbreathe" when we breathe through our mouth. That is, we take fast, short and shallow breaths. This rhythm disrupts the oxygen to carbon dioxide ratios in our body. Surprisingly, it is carbon dioxide that actually gets the oxygen out of our red blood cells and into our tissues and organs. When we breathe through our nose, we balance the oxygen and carbon dioxide ratios in our body, and the oxygen can get to where it is needed.

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The three golden rules of breathing (DW#676)

Over the weekend did you complete the ‘noticing your breath’ assignment? Have you been noticing your breath? What have you noticed?

Do you breathe through your mouth or your nose? (Many people breath thru their mouth. Look around and/or in the mirror. Notice yourself and others. How many mouths do you see open?)

Do you breathe deeply (and calmly) into your belly? (For many of us the breath stops at the chest, especially if we breathe through our mouths.)

How long is your exhale compared to your inhale? (If we are stressed, we gasp for air without emptying out our lungs fully)

Here are the three basic rules for breathing:

1. Breathe through your nose. All the time, even when exercising.
2. Breathe deep into your belly
3. And exhale slightly longer than you inhaled
Let us explore each of these a little more over the next few days.

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Attending to the basics (DW#675)

If you are a perfectionist, you have already started researching the "best" and most "perfect" self-care routines. You may have downloaded some apps and trackers and telling yourself that once you have done enough research and have a handle on best practices, you will start your routine. (Please do not ask me how I know this . .)

If this describes you, please STOP right now.

Instead of making self-care an elaborate and unattainable practice that takes up three hours of your time, keep it super simple. Start with your most basic needs for now.

What is the most basic self-care routine that can have a major impact on our wellbeing?

Breathing.

Yes, yes, of course we are already doing it but in order to make it part of self-care, we need to be a little bit intentional about breathing.

Over the next couple of days, just notice how you are breathing. Is it shallow or deep? What happens to your breath when you are stressed or anxious?

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The first golden rule of self-care (DW#674)

One of the most important things to know about self-care is that it is individual. Your needs and my needs are different. What works for me may not work for you.

However, while there is no "one-size-fits-all" self-care plan that you can simply download and adopt, it is a good idea to attend to wellness in all the various domains of our lives.

Here are the various domains that need our attention:

Physical
Mental and intellectual
Emotional
Social
Vocational
Spiritual

So, let’s do a quick check in: how are you doing in these domains of your life? Chances are that you will be better at taking care of yourself in one area than others. Some of us are great at exercising but have a challenge with connecting to others. Others may be great at keeping their relationships strong but struggle to eat well or sleep properly.

If we can attend to the hitherto neglected areas of our lives and take baby steps in this area, we will see a big impact in our wellbeing.

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Self-care and resilience (DW#673)

Have you ever wondered why some people seem to remain calm in the face of stress or disaster while others appear to come undone? People that can keep their cool and maintain their balance have what psychologists call resilience, or an ability to cope with problems and setbacks.

Resilience has been defined by the American Psychological Association as "the human ability to adapt in the face of tragedy, trauma, adversity, hardship, and ongoing significant life stressors." To put it very simply, resilience is the ability to "bounce back" from challenges.

Resilience does not mean that you experience less distress, grief, anxiety or external life challenges than other people. It does mean that you can handle such difficulties in ways that foster strength and growth. That you are able to bounce back when you are knocked down and you may even emerge stronger than you were before you encountered the challenge.

The good news about resilience? It is like a muscle that can be developed through...

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Why is it so easy to let go of self-care? (DW#672)

Over the last few days we have been discussing the importance of self-care. From the feedback I am getting from you, it seems that most people agree (at least theoretically) that self-care is vital to thrive at work, at home and in life.

So why is so easy to let go of self-care? When we are stressed or busy, why is taking care of the fundamentals of self-care the first thing we drop from our to-do list? Why is it that we ignore it when we need it the most?

Here are 3 reasons:

1) Because we think about self-care from a distance, as something we are supposed to do and you know it’s important, but we haven’t really thought about it or made an intention to implement this in a regular or structured way.
2) When we are stressed, our perspective narrows and we focus only on the problems at hand. This is not the time that we can think about refueling. We are too busy "doing" to pause or reflect on what we need.
3) We do not have a plan for self-care so there is no context,...

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Ignoring yourself is not heroic (DW#671)

A deep-seated belief that many of us have is that there is virtue in self-sacrifice and workaholism.

And our culture glorifies this. The employee who puts in 80-plus hours a week is promoted, the working mother who manages to excel at work and run a perfect home without missing a beat is admired, the husband who works hard for his family without ever taking a day off or getting a hobby is praised as dedicated.

And because we believe that self-sacrifice and ignoring ourselves is best, we feel shame or embarrassment when we feel like we need to do something to recharge or refuel.

And because we don’t want to be we ‘lazy,’ ‘selfish’ or ‘weak’, we ignore the whispers of our bodies, our souls and our hearts that are asking for something different.

We ignore them, that is, until they become loud, screeching sirens telling us that something has broken down. We realize then that we are trying to put on oxygen masks on everyone else while gasping for...

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