Stress is a killer. It can truly ruin your health by activating genetic “weak spots” and flipping that genetic switch of disease to “on.”
In terms of gut health, stress deactivates the vagus nerve. That is not good, since the vagus nerve is the super-highway between the gut and the brain, and when your brain is stressed, your gut will be, too.
In my practice, we utilize a very simple technique to reap huge benefits. Incorporate this into your life and you will be taking big steps towards reducing stress and anxiety, rebalancing hormones, improving sleep, and reducing knots in your back and neck. Best of all, it’s simple, free, and there are no side effects (except possibly while driving — more below).
How To Do 5’s
We call it “5s.” In a nutshell, breathe in for a count of 5, then breathe out for a count of 5. Do this 5 times in a row, and do a series of 5, 5 times a day. Doesn’t that sound easy? Well, it is…and it isn’t. Try it right now.
Did you run out of room in your lungs on the in breath before you ran out of counts? If you did, it could be because your shoulders are up around your ears, in a typical stress posture.
Do this first: put your shoulders down. Engage your shoulder blades by sliding them down towards your back pocket, rotating them out away from your body center. Put your bowling ball of a head back over your shoulders instead of jutting it forward. Shake out your hands.
Now…try that breath again. Breathe in with a soft belly, nice and rhythmically to a count of 5, starting at the bottom of your chest, filling the upper regions of your lungs last. Keep your collar bones down. Even hold for a beat once full. Now exhale to a count of 5, no rush, and empty out all the corners of those lungs so that you can fill back up completely on the next in breath. If you like, breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth.
How Often and When
Do this 5 times a day, every day, and you may start to see beneficial changes, as do many of my patients. Do it when you feel stressed, for whatever reason. Do it when you are awake in the night and don’t want to be. Do it before answering someone in anger. Do it when you are in pain. But…maybe not do it when you are driving because sometimes taking deep breaths, especially after habitually not doing so, may make you dizzy.
Fight-Flight, or Feed-Breed
Physically, what happens when you do “5s” is that you are breaking a physical stress response. Your body will inform your mind and emotions that you are not facing an emergency, that you do not need to mount a fight or flight response to prepare to run or fight (shallow breathing, fists tight, shoulders up, head jutting forward), and it will not need to mount a cortisol surge. Your emotions and your physical body are inextricably entwined. Technically, your body doesn’t know the difference between a bear chasing you, a freeway driver cutting you off, or discovering a bank balance too low to pay your bills. It just knows STRESS and the only two weapons it brings to that fight are…
Fight or run. That’s it.
Stress = Fat, IBS, Tired and Wired
A body getting ready to fight or run can’t waste effort on digesting food or sleeping. Nor would it be the time to procreate. That body is on red alert, survival mode. It will store calories as fat to be dealt with later (hello spare tire) or possibly purge (hello diarrhea); will maintain alertness (hello insomnia) and cannot let down enough for intimacy (hello blue pill). The opposite of “fight or flight” is “feed and breed,” and you can see why.
But, you can reset your stress response and “5s” is a good place to begin. Remember to shake out your hands as a signal to begin, to tell your body that in fact you are shaking off your previously typical response, and you are going to breathe deeply instead. Give it a try for a few days. Let me know in your comments how it worked out for you!