We have two different parts of our nervous systems, one that lights up when we are under threat "fight or flight" and one that is often labeled "rest and digest".
- Being under stress and in "alarm" mode changes our breathing.To switch from alarm mode to rest and digest, try this simple exercise. Place your hands on your lower ribs. As you breath in, feel your lower ribs expanding outwards, against your hands. This movement of the ribs is a cue for the nervous system to switch from alarm to rest. The neurobiology is complicated, but the science is clear. (This is different than "belly" breathing, which does not have this effect on the nervous system.
- During the "alarm" phase, massive amounts of glucose are released into the bloodstream and are targeted for the lower extremities. (There is some really good data about chronic stress and adult onset diabetes as a result). It makes sense that when you are under increased stress, do your best to vigorously exercise your legs. Bike, run, walk briskly, whatever. You will feel the difference afterwards.
When stress increases, the effect is as physical as it is mental. The good news is that we can use physical strategies to combat the effects of stress as well.