Part 1: Reduce short-term stress.

We have been living in these very special times for a year and feel the tension both physically and mentally. We feel stressed.

What exactly is stress? Here is an excerpt from the Lexicon of Psychology (Dorsch): “Stress (= S.) [engl. Stress, strain, pressure, tension; distress Sorge, Kummer], [AO, BIO, GES, KLI], in common parlance S. means a subj. Situation perceived as unpleasant, by which a person is negatively influenced (distress), i. Ggs. To the stimulating pos. S. (Eustress). “Https://dorsch.hogrefe.com/stichwort/stress

According to Andrew Huberman, who teaches and researches as a neuroscientist at Stanford (https://www.hubermanlab.com), it is a system that mobilizes certain mechanisms in the head and body. We all have the opportunity to activate this system, also to control it in part, and thus to mitigate the negative effects.

Our systems do not differentiate between emotional and physical stress.

Whether the stress is physical or psychological, the response is always the same. Someone can pinch us really tight in the arm until we scream. Or we can feel under time pressure if we have to cope with too many professional projects at once. The process that is started is always identical.

We like to use a massage, sport or the use of the mindfulness method to reduce stress. But what can we do when that is just not feasible? What if we need a solution right away? At this moment?

When we experience stress, the nerve cells that run as a chain from the neck to the pelvic floor are activated as an immediate reaction. Our heart beats faster and more blood is pumped into the muscles of the legs and arms. For this, among other things, the blood supply for digestion is reduced.

So we are activated in a way that makes us move more. We know that we want to pace up and down under tension.

If we want to control stress, we need to learn to deal with that arousal.

Huberman and his team have examined strategies that can support us in the event of short-term, medium-term and long-term stress.

Reduce short-term stress:

Short-term stress can even be good for us. When the stress response occurs, adrenaline is released. This helps, for example, to fight infections.

What should we do if we feel tension because we are giving a lecture or we are faced with a difficult conversation?

The key is in our breathing!

If we use this consciously, we can reduce our perception of stress. We can do this if we use our parasympathetic nervous system. This is responsible for calming down and relaxing. With a certain breathing technique we can calm down (“the psychological sigh”).

Through conscious breathing we can influence our heartbeat and the relationship between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system (fight or flight).

When you inhale, the diaphragm lowers, the lungs expand, and the heart enlarges slightly. A group of neurons (sinus nodes) in the heart send signals to the brain to make the blood flow more slowly. The brain then sends a signal to increase the heart rate: “More, faster!”

If we want to increase our heart rate, the inhalation must be longer and more vigorous than the exhalation.

Conversely, it means that when you exhale, the diaphragm rises and the blood flows a little faster. The parasympathetic system sends a signal to calm the heartbeat.

According to Huberman, if we want to relax in a short period of time, we can influence this through breathing. We just have to breathe out longer or more vigorous  than we breathe in.

According to Huberman’s studies, the strategy is as follows:

Inhale 2x in quick succession and exhale 1x long. Repeat this 1-3 times. It takes between 20-30 seconds for the excitement to subside. This procedure may have to be repeated 1-2 times.

He recommends breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth (if that doesn’t work, breathing only through your mouth or nose is effective).

I recommend practicing under professional guidance first.

Yes, relaxation is work too – but it’s worth it! Let’s give this a try!

My tip: clarify the technique recommended by Huberman with your family doctor before trying it out.

Regular exercise is good for us. We all know that. Most of the time, we think of the advantages for our physique: better stamina, more mobility and still being able to fit into clothes. It is much more exciting to look at the benefits for our mental abilities. This has been done by a group of researchers led by Professor Felipe Schuch (Brazilian Universidade Federal de Santa Maria) in long-term studies. They have accompanied more than 200,000 mentally healthy people over a period of 7 1/2 years. Here is the link to the summary of the studies (2018): https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Brendon-Stubbs/publication/324675038_Physical_Activity_and_Incident_Depression_A_Meta-Analysis_of_Prospective_Cohort_Studies/Acts / links / cf80b7a299andbfical-Activity-Activity-A299andbf1f Meta-Analysis-of-Prospective-Cohort-Studies.pdf

It is an essential finding that people who are particularly active, i.e. 30 minutes 5 times a week (150 minutes per week) have a 30% lower risk of developing depression in the future. But even those who only exercised moderately had a 15% reduced risk of mental illness. That means we can all use exercise as medicine.

In one study, the researchers found that 10 minutes a day of light activity such as walking or cycling had a significant effect on our brain, especially on our hippocampus. People with depression often have a reduced hippocampus volume and an increased number of inflammatory markers. Among other things, the hippocampus is responsible for processing emotions. Light physical movement can improve the structure of our brain and stimulate the growth of hormones such as BDNF (which protects and promotes the formation of neurons and synapses).

In another study, researchers assigned a control group to exercise little and sit as much as possible (healthy people in their twenties). After a week!!! the researchers found that the subjects’ stress levels had increased. Compared to the other group who moved normally. In addition, the group asked to sit had elevated markers of depression. This means that even if we are healthy but move less, we increase our sense of stress. Exercise is all the more important in winter, when the weather is not so inviting.

In summary, this evaluation of the studies means that light and regular exercise brings about a significant improvement in our mental abilities and strengths. Small changes made consciously and consistently.

My tip: Find a form of exercise that you can enjoy and start making small changes in your daily life. Working in the garden for 10 minutes a day, dancing to your favorite music or taking a leisurely walk not only improves your mood, but also increases your self-confidence and strengthens your well-being in challenging times.