One of the main reasons, if not the main reason, why I wrote the book and created Logic Mind & Health was to reduce my stress at work. And also help others reduce their stress. Frequently, I would find myself in the operating room assisting physicians with heart procedures and stressed to the gills. I didn’t know how to calm my brain and body. I needed to learn how to do it, and in certain circumstances, how to do it quickly.
Thankfully, after listening to Stanford professor and Neurobiologist Dr. Andrew Huberman, I found some great answers. He specializes in vision and describes some very simple visual techniques that I use in conjunction with two other practices that reduce the heart rate and put the body into a calm state in just seconds.
I simply stand up a little straighter, put my shoulders back a little, put my chin up a little, and even put on a smile. When I force my body to change its state, my state of mind changes as well. Our muscles are tense during the stress response, so I try to relax those.
As I am improving my posture, I take a few, slow, deep breaths. Specifically, I perform what Dr. Huberman describes as a physiologic sigh, which is a double inhale followed by a slow exhale. So I take a deep breath in, and at the top of the breath I inhale just a little bit more to fill my lungs as full as possible. Then I breathe out slower than my two inhalations.
The key here is not only the double inhalation, but the slow exhalation. This helps to literally slow down my heart rate after a few cycles (a phenomenon called Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia). During the stress response, we tend to breathe faster and take more shallow breaths. The stress response chemicals really energize the body. Slow deep breaths combats this.
When we are stressed out, we tend to become hyper focused on a point in space. To combat this, I pick a point in space farthest away from me, and if I’m indoors, I look outside towards the horizon. But in the operating room, I just pick the furthest point in my visual field and lock my head and eyes there. And without moving my head or eyes, I pay attention to what’s in my periphery. Because when we are stressed out, it’s almost as if our periphery is out of focus and there’s only one point in space that is extremely in focus. So to combat that, I bring back into focus my periphery. Also, I move my eyes laterally in a side to side fashion for a few seconds. These eye movements and vision techniques have been shown to calm the brain.
So there you have it. Three simple practices that work to instantly calm the brain and body in the heat of stressful moments. Of course, this does not apply to work. But it is useful if you are stuck in a place like an operating room or an intense meeting. They can also be used at home, a social gathering, or anywhere you need to calm down quickly.
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