Workday Stress? Relive it Quickly By Engaging the Parasympathetic Nervous System


It’s common to feel stressed out in the workplace. Even if the benefits of stress reduction techniques are well known, many neglect the opportunity to give themselves a few moments of self-care that can help them through those hours on the job. Plenty of options are out there, including focused physical activity and meditation. These acts may be simple, but they are effective, sometimes in mere minutes.

So what’s happening when people use stress relieving techniques? According to Psychology Today writer Toni Bernhard, they are engaging the parasympathetic nervous system. It is part of the body’s involuntary nervous system, the same network that produces a feeling of alertness or “flight or fight” response. In this case, the parasympathetic system causes a slowing of the heart rate and a feeling of calm and relaxation.

Bernhard offers some specific techniques to engage this system. Most can be done discreetly, during a coffee break, before a meeting or even in the parking lot before you exit your vehicle to start the day.

·         Breathe from your abdomen while remaining focused on the present moment

·         Visualize a pleasant scene and engage with that scene using all of your senses

·         Run a couple of fingers lightly along your lips

Most people have heard these recommendations before. But what do they mean? The key is awareness and becoming present in the current moment. While some may fear they will focus more on their anxiety, focused attention actually calls one to recognize his or her own body and space. Instead of projecting fear into the future, attention is drawn to the feeling of being alive and content.

Visualization is distinct from daydreaming. In order to be an effective stress reduction technique, one must be present in the visualization. A simple image of a meadow on a sunny day is extraordinarily enhanced by smelling the flowers, feeling the wind and experiencing the dewy grass beneath one’s feet. When the visualization is over, the effects are felt in the body, as tension is released, one’s pulse is no longer racing and the world seems quieter.

It turns out the lips are closely connected to the parasympathetic nervous system. Running a finger or two across the lips can actually have tangible, almost immediate effects, restoring a sense of calm. That means in a pinch one can take it down a few decibels just by putting hand to face.

Increasingly, the medical community is seeing that mind-body techniques are a form of medicine. The Mayo Clinic recommends various forms of meditation as a complementary practice to deal with daily stress or a chronic illness. In addition to visualization, the Clinic recommends saying a mantra or practicing yoga, tai chi or qi gong. At the end of the day — or during the day — you can take whatever steps are right for you to achieve that state of self-care.

Image: Nickolai Kashirin/Flickr Creative Commons

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1 Comment

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