It’s 3:00PM, you’re at work, the papers are piled high on your desk, Outlook is showing way too many unopened emails and you’ve got a long list of urgent to dos. The phone is ringing and you are late to that important meeting that you are leading. Anyone ever been there before? I certainly have! I feel my heart racing just as I re-live and internalize that experience. I often say when I’m that busy, I feel like I’m jugging plates and putting out fires at the same time. If I pay too much attention to the plates, I get burned by the fires, and if I pay too much attention to the fires, the plates all fall down and break. The frenzy of figuring out what to pay attention to creates havoc in our brains and in our bodies. The urge to multi-task creates a battlefield scenario where we are barely focused on the task at hand, eyes darting back and forth from pile to file- attentive to the incomings, and in duck and cover while dealing with the battle in front of us, trying to get our shot out.
From a neuroscience perspective, we have entered the classic state of ‘fight or flight“. While this may seem normal, what’s happening from a physiological perspective is that your body is releasing what’s known as the stress hormones (cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine) to keep up this frenzied state of affairs. Stress hormones signal the blood to leave the major organs including your brain and head to the extremities. The blood vessels constricts, your heart races and you are geared up to REACT but unfortunately, NOT THINK (blood in arms/legs, not brain…). Fight or flight is a reactive/responsive state that allows us to run from danger, fast, or FIGHT, with added strength but not with too much planning or thinking as these extra deliberations could endanger our well being (when being chased by a bear, better to run fast/think later…)
Now back to your desk, where we are not being chased by any wild animals – if you could only shift from fight or flight to a present/alert state with your brain in charge, where you could be analytical, logical, empirical and practical. WOW. What wouldn’t that be great? I introduce you to what’s known as the relaxed state, sometimes called “rest and digest” where the blood is in the major organs and the brain. This state of mind allows you to use your pre-frontal cortex or the ”executive brain” and take a look at everything from an analytical and logical perspective, where you can rationally prioritize and handle matters based on need and manage expectations of yourself and others. When you’re in the state of “relaxation” (and this doesn’t mean. You’re on a float in the pool with a margarita although, that would be nice…), your body is releasing higher levels of the “feel good” hormones known as serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins, and from here, you’re able to find a centered, less reactive approach.
So you say, “that sounds great, how do I make that happen?” Well, quite simply: Take a deep breath!! Really, that’s it! Well, maybe a few deep breaths and the longer and slower the inhale and exhale – the more effective it will be. SO, what if you could take just 4 breaths, each of 4 seconds breathing in through your nose and 4 seconds exhaling through your nose or mouth. Nice and slow, easy and smooth. *1 As you inhale, make sure the breath fills up your belly (you can place your hands gently on your belly so you feel the inhale) and as you exhale, your bellybutton pulls back towards your spine. That’s it! Does that sound too long or complicated? Take a test run right here. How’d that work? Practice makes perfect, so feel free to try again! If 4 seconds felt too long, try 3 seconds, just try to keep the length of the inhale and exhale the same length. Once you’ve done 4 cycles, return to your normal breathing. If you’re ready to try it again, after about 10 seconds of normal breathing (counting those seconds out is good too) then you can try a few more cycles just for the kick of it! This is a super simple tool to calm your nerves when you’re stressed or feeling like you can’t keep up, or angry, frustrated or overwhelmed. Or dare I say, when you just to keep centered! By the way, you just did a mini meditation! Breathing, focused attention, mindfulness. Congrats! *1 This is derived from Davidji’s “Secrets of Meditation” – He calls this “Tactical Breathing”