Stress is a part of everyday life, in fact we need it. Sometimes it gets a bad rap, perhaps because too much stress can be a problem; even causing disease. We intentionally introduce stress to our bodies in CrossFit in order to make it stronger. The interesting thing is we don’t actually get stronger in class. The stress we put on our body in a workout is only the first half of the equation. The body repairs itself long after we’ve come down from this initial stress. The real strengthening happens as we sleep; so peaceful and stress-free. So stress itself isn’t the bad guy; it is our inability to come down from that stress that can cause damage.
Caileigh introduced us to the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system (SNS and PSNS) in her post called Hungry on Rest Days? These two systems play an important role in learning to manage stress through their ability to work together. The SNS is what we draw on when we face a tough workout, have to be focused at work, or when we have to have a difficult conversation. We need the up, it’s what gives us the ability to do the things we need to get done. The key is being able to come back down after we are up. This is where PSNS comes into play.
Also known as “rest and digest”, the PSNS is where the body lets go of tension, and gets busy doing the necessary repair work in our bodies. Burnout comes when people stay too long in the SNS and are not able to come down and reset. Think of the Yin and Yang symbol, there is a balance. Understanding how to activate the PSNS is a key skill we need to learn, and zoning out in front of the TV doesn’t count.
Deep breathing is a very effective way to engage your PSNS. Just Google search it, and you’ll find tons of resources. The simplest is a 1-minute breathing exercise you can incorporate into your day. Many smart watches and mobile devices have something similar built right in. To simplify it, deep breathing sends a signal to your brain to relax, and then your brain passes that signal along to the rest of your body. Simple, easy to do anywhere, and highly effective.
Go ahead and give it a try, make it part of your daily routine. You may be amazed to see how effective something as simple as breathing can be on lowering stress.