Mousab Kassem Azzawi
2020 / 10 / 16
Researched by Academy House Team
Edited by Mousab Kassem Azzawi, MSc, MD, PhD.
In this lecture, we will discuss some biological and mental interventions that can help you to manage stress more effectively. Stress is almost always a physiological and emotional reaction to a situation, and it impacts your ability to think clearly, respond appropriately, and perform at your best. Your stress level impacts not only how you feel at the end of the day, but it also impacts your health and even your relationships.
This lecture focuses on the power of positive assimilation of the world around you and your personal emotions. We will also cover in this lecture a powerful technique to neutralise stress called heart-focused breathing.
Frequently, you cannot control the world around you. It is the actual events in our life that we cannot control, but we can control our perception of those events—which leads to the physical response that involves the physiologic and mental reaction towards stress, including releasing the stress hormones.
Stress in fact is not the situation you are in, but rather, it is your physical, mental, and emotional reactions to the situation.
In a research study on how people’s perceptions of the world affect their health, students were asked to watch a movie about Mother Teresa’s activities, including administering to the sick and taking care of the poor. A protein that protects the body from infection, called IgA, was measured.
In about 92 percent of the students, IgA levels increased after watching the movie about Mother Teresa. In other words, their immune systems were positively affected. However, in about eight percent of the students, IgA levels decreased after watching the movie.
The students were then asked to write a story about a picture of a couple on a park bench. All they could see from the picture was the backs of a man and a woman sitting on a park bench.
The students whose IgA levels had increased came up with stories about proposals and marriage. However, the other eight percent, whose immune system potency had decreased after watching the Mother Teresa movie, came up with stories about distrust, manipulation, and abandonment. In other words, these students saw everything negatively. They even claimed to dislike Mother Teresa.
When the researchers looked at who were the sickest students over the previous year, it was those students who had the negative response to the Mother Teresa movie that were sick all the time. The researchers concluded that perception as well as perspective towards life in general were the keys for interpreting these research results.
We may not be able to change various aspects of our environment, but we can change how we react to, and perceive, our environment.
If you find yourself experiencing negative thoughts, and having negative emotions, it is important to know how to shift your thoughts, thereby shifting the consequences of the stress reaction and stress hormones.
Research has shown that people who generally have positive thoughts—the optimists of the world—have increased longevity.
Positive emotions reduce morbidity from various diseases, and they result in us having more cognitive flexibility—more creativity. Having positive emotions cause us to be better at problem solving and more innovative. Positive emotions even improve our job performance.
Not just thinking about a positive emotion, but actually embracing these thoughts in your inner perspective towards life and in your daily actions and reactions is what has a positive effect on your body.
People who see the world negatively should try keeping a gratefulness journal. At night, they should write down things that they are grateful for, so that they start feeling love and gratitude to the positive things in their lives. That is how they can start getting the physiologic and mental benefits from having positive emotions.
When you are in a stressful situation´-or-are thinking negative thoughts, start by neutralising the negative thoughts and feelings. Take a time-out—which involves sitting down and taking a few deep breaths—before you say something´-or-do something that you are going to regret.
Breathing is controlled by our autonomic nervous system. However, there is a feedback loop from the mode of our breathing that modulate how our autonomic nervous system fires its electric signals. This magnificent interaction manifest itself brilliantly when we take a deep breath in, our heart rate increases, and when we exhale, our heart rate decreases. However, if we breathe in a cyclical, rhythmical way, it stabilizes our autonomic nervous system. It is interesting to mention that when the autonomic nervous system is kept at bay most of the negative aspects of stress physiologic and mental reactions would not materialise.
To engage in heart-focused breathing, the first thing you need to do is to take a time-out. Remove yourself from the stressful situation.
Most of us breathe from the upper third of our lungs. Take a deep breath- it is also called abdominal breathing using your diaphragm muscle during which your belly should move outwards and inwards —for five seconds in and five seconds out. As soon as you start the breath, it interrupts the body’s stress response, so you should already start to feel more relaxed.
Next, draw your focus to your heart-;- imagine that you are breathing in and out through your heart. This may feel strange at first, but in a few minutes, it will become more natural. This is called heart breathing. Keep breathing for five seconds in and five seconds out.
If you are having trouble doing this for the first time, you may want to place your right hand over your heart, and if it is comfortable, place your left hand over your right hand, and begin to breathe in and out.
You may also find that closing your eyes will make this breathing technique easier. With practice, you will be able to do it with your eyes opened´-or-closed.
If you have a problem that you are trying to solve but cannot get the solution, engage in some heart-focused breathing, but also think about something that elicits a positive emotion for you while you are breathing. Do not just think about unconditional love´-or-appreciation-;- you need to engage mentally with an idea´-or-memory that actually makes you feel grateful.
Adding the power of positive emotion can improve your cognition, increase your mental flexibility, and help you make decisions. One of the easiest ways to do this is to remember a special place´-or-someone you love´-or-appreciate.
After adding the power of positive emotion—by thinking about your child, grandchild,´-or-puppy, for example—hold that feeling of appreciation´-or-love for about 20 seconds. Then, try to radiate that love to yourself and to all those around you.
When you catch your mind wandering away and find that you cannot retain your focus, do not be upset. Instead, always return your focus to the breathing. Then, reconnect with your feelings of caring, love, and appreciation.