To be without stress is to be without life.” I either heard this first during middle school biology, or an undergrad athletic training class. I’m sure we would all like to be stress free at work, at home, and at play…but let’s face it, life happens and stress is life. The good news is that there exists eustress, or good stress, which occurs naturally over the course of our lives, even back to first learning how to walk. Eustress is a place of learning and discovery that makes us stronger all the while leaving us with a surplus of resources to continue this process. Distress is the yin to the yang of eustress. Distress is a place of survival that uses up resources and leaves us stripped down and vulnerable. Survival is not a fun place to be and our bodies can only take a certain amount until we start breaking down. Each person seems to have there own way of expressing this state of being, but it can always be tied back to stress, be it physical, mental, or emotional.
Now, everything is a spectrum and there are no absolutes. I’ve already discussed eustress at one end and distress at the other. Stress can be good and it is truly necessary to stress our system in order to make gains, but where is the threshold? How often do we push our bodies beyond the point where we are no longer pushing ourselves, but instead literally trying to survive our workouts, our schedules, and our lives. Let me create a mental picture for you to help make a point. There are three (equally attractive) people running down the road all at the same pace. One is breathing through their nose with a relaxed face, the second is breathing through their mouth with no apparent distress, and the third is breathing loudly through their mouth. In this moment, where do these people fall on this spectrum and which would you rather be?
I know that there are those among us that use exercise to relieve stress. Awesome! Keep it up! But also ask yourself what type of stress you are adding to your life? How often do you do something restorative to balance things out and press a resent button? Do you ever go to a place of eustress during the day, or even at night? How restful is your sleep?
All of my writing about stress was really to bring me to this point…your mood and stress level affects behavior, movement is a behavior and breathing is movement. If we are stressed physically, mentally, or emotionally, it will change how we breathe. It is not uncommon that people go from a stressed breathing strategy during the day right into a workout where they are essentially hyperventilating the whole time. This cycle can be all to real and may very well even manifest itself at night affecting your sleep. Breathing is the only function of our autonomic nervous system over which we have volitional control, and thus can be a useful indicator of where we are on our spectrum and a tool to make improvements. Take a minute and check in with yourself…
-Can you breath in and out silently through your nose? Are you still silent if you plug your ears?
-Can you breath like this for one minute with a 3 second inhale and a 6 second exhale? Can you do it without pausing or breath holding?
If you cannot breath in silently through your nose at a controlled rate, I can guarantee your life, your exercise, and your sleep are not as efficient and restorative as they could be. More good news, there are things you can do to make improvements. You can start by taking time to practice silent breathing one minute at a time throughout the day with your lips together, teeth apart, and tongue on the roof of your mouth. So here’s to a good life. Get out and ‘eu-‘ something! ~Dr. Dan DPT, ATC, OCS
A little from Dr. Dan, a little from Lisa but always a lot of good stuff!