Activating Your Superpowers To Destress In Times Of Crisis
Updated: Dec 9, 2020
You are incredible! You have all the tools you need to de-stress yourself. There is actually a neurological system in your body that you can trigger as often as you chose to help yourself feel less stressed, peaceful, calm and happy moment by moment.
It is called your parasympathetic system, part of your autonomic nervous system or PNS, for short. I’m going to give you a quick overview, so you have a powerful resource to help yourself.
The Autonomic Nervous System
Just for a moment observe what you are doing right now. Do you know what it is? You do it automatically without any thought. It’s your superpower! What is it? Breath!
Take a moment to observe your breathing as it is, right now. Is it fast, slow, deep belly, shallow? How is it? Next, relax and let your breathing slow down. Then, for another moment, deliberately breathe faster.
Doing this is activating your “autonomic nervous system” (ANS). This system is your superpower in times of stress. It regulates many automatic bodily processes, and for most, it operates outside of your conscious awareness. But actually, you can exercise conscious influence over the ANS. This superpower puts you in driver’s seat for your emotional well-being in your body.
Activating Your Superpower
If you want to create calmness and be less stressed, you could take a moment to activate the parasympathetic aspect your ANS by taking deep, full breaths:
When you inhale, fill your lungs fully, hold for a second or so, and then exhale in a relaxed way.
Try breathing in this way for 60 seconds.
It’s striking that such a simple and brief method is so powerful.
It works because deep, long inhalations expand your bronchioles: the passageways in your lungs to the tiny alveoli where oxygen enters the blood and carbon dioxide leaves it. The PNS is in charge of constricting the bronchioles, so by making them swell up with a big breath, you trigger the PNS to bring them back to their “resting” size.
Parasympathetic and Sympathetic Systems – Your Superpowers
If you tried the deep breathing exercise just above, you got a sense of what lighting up the parasympathetic system feels like. For the sympathetic system, imagine something stressful, like being contained within your home, or running out of food in this stressful time. Try to get into the experience, and then notice what it feels like in your body and mind. Take a couple full breaths to get back to centre.
That back and forth calm from breathing deeply, then aroused by stress, and then calm again illustrates how the parasympathetic and sympathetic systems work in balance with each other. This is your superpower. By learning how skilfully you can control them, you can increase your positive experiences, reducing negative ones, and if you practice regularly you will develop the steadiness of mind and boost your immune system and your overall wellbeing.
The PNS conserves energy in your body and is responsible for ongoing, soft, steady-state activity. The feeling of it is relaxation, often with a sense of contentment. Which is what we all need right now.
Relaxation is at the core of a healthy immune system
Relaxing also has a significant indirect activation of the PNS: relaxed muscles send messages to the alarm centres in the brain that nothing is alerting the body to a threat.
Many people have their preferred methods of relaxing, but in times like this we may not be able to go to yoga, the gym, run outside or participate in group activities.
Here are a few superpowers that you have with you all of the time for relaxing without going outside:
Relax your tongue – feel it relaxing in your mouth. If you relax your tongue completely, it is very difficult to talk to yourself. When you focus on relaxing it, it makes it much more difficult to think. This simple technique can help you stop the internal chatter and quieten your mind when you just need a moment of peace. Just relaxing your tongue radically reduces the active thinking, beta brain waves and stills the mind.
Relax your eyes – Keep blinking them slowing. We use our eyes to ‘search’ for danger. It’s important to relax them. This sends a signal to the brain that everything is ok
Relax the diaphragm area - The diaphragm is the primary muscle used in the process of breathing. This dome-shaped muscle is located just below the lungs and heart It contracts continually as you breathe in and out. When we are in fear we can hold our breath or restrict our breathing. Relaxing our diaphragm send a signal to our PNS all is well.
Imagine being in a very relaxing setting. Feel everything draining out of you and sinking deep into the earth. Your body will thank you for it. I don’t need to explain what this is doing, you will immediate feel it.
All of these will destress you, send signals to brain and boost your immune system. You might like to try one or more of these rights now, maybe one you’re not so familiar with, and see how it feels.
The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS)
The SNS deals with immediate, rapid responses to changing environmental conditions. It’s functions to regulate the body's unconscious actions. The sympathetic nervous system's primary process is to stimulate the body's fight, flight or response to ‘danger’. This can be real danger or perceived danger.
PNS helps you “rest and digest.” Both systems evolved to keep animals, including humans, alive in very harsh and potentially lethal environments, and we need them both.
In our modern world we live in environments that promote excitement, aggressiveness, high- stress work life, pace, and general intensity that is fuelled by the SNS. We live in times where society has chosen not to take steps such as universal health care, family friendly laws, and an economic safety net that would lower much of the SNS-activating anxiety that eats away at many people.
Most of us live in a chronic state of SNS over-activation. Conscious attention to the parasympathetic system brings the pendulum back to centre. And you can, moment by moment by activate your own internal superpowers to boost your immune system and impact your overall well-being.
And final, and most importantly…
Connecting with your heart
I love the Heart Math Institute they are pioneers in heart coherence and have a number of research-based techniques for influencing the heart in ways that improve physical and mental health. Most of their methods engage the parasympathetic nervous system.
Here is a simple method you can use to create heart coherence. Heart coherence is simply connecting the energy of the heart with the brain and creating a pathway for healing.
Breathe in such a way that your inhalation and exhalation are the same duration; for example, count 1-2-3 in your mind while inhaling and 1-2-3 while exhaling.
At the same time, imagine or sense that you’re breathing in and out through the area of your heart.
Meanwhile, bring to mind a heartfelt emotion like gratitude or love.
Try this for a minute or two, and you will probably be struck by the results. I teach this to my clients to create a state of internal safety. They love and feel connected, grounded and at peace. Technically, you are both increasing and harmonising the natural, tiny changes in the interval between heart beats. By doing this you are activating your superpower and creating significant changes in that interval, and changes that vary smoothly from one beat to the next, link to cardiovascular health, improved immune system function, and elevated mood. How incredible are you!