Tools for Managing Stress and Anxiety in Real time

Dr Thanh-Tam Pham - 04/04/2021

Dr Andrew Huberman is a neuroscientist and professor in the department of Neurobiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine. The Huberman Lab is aimed at developing new tools for humans to manage stress and anxiety in real time.

Stress occurs when the internal expectations do not match with the external situation. Stressors can be physical or psychological.

In acute stress, the sympathetic system release adrenaline to act in 2 different ways. The beta receptors make the blood vessels to dilate to increase circulation in the muscles and speed up the heart to prepare for the fight and flight response. The non essential system like the digestive system is shut down. This reaction prepares for the body to move so the person feels agitated and flushed.

The parasympathetic system acts as a brake.

We can stimulate the autonomic system by breathing.

When we inhale, the diaphragm moves down and the heart is relatively bigger and the blood moves slowly through the heart and the Sino-Atrial node (SA node) sense it and sends signals to the brain that the rate is slower and the brain sends back signals to increase the heart rate. When we exhale, the diaphragm moves up and the heart is smaller and blood flows quicker and the SA node send signals to the brain to reduce the heart rate.

So inhale deeper and longer speeds up the heart rate and exhale deeper and longer reduces the heart rate.

1- The physiological sighs involve 2 double inhales followed by a long exhale.

Children are doing it naturally when they cry for a while and try to calm down.

The double inhales help to reinflate the alveoli of lungs that tend to collapse in stress with CO2 retention causing agitation. The prolonged exhale is effective to off load CO2 and produces relaxation.

With that technique, the heart rate takes 20-30sec to slow down. If the rebound is too fast with the vasovagal response, the heart rate slows down too quickly and the person faints.

If someone has trouble sleeping, doing 10-15 cycles of double inhales and long exhale will help to sleep.

Double inhales and double exhales activate the para-facial nucleus to relax the muscles of the jaw to help with clear speech.

2- Raising stress threshold:

Acute stress response is good for the immune system when there are bacterial or viral infections, adrenaline is release and the spleen release killer T cells.

Wim Hof breathing involves deliberate hyperventilation for 25-30 breaths followed by holding the breath. The hyperventilation causes the release of adrenaline and makes people to feel very alert. A study found that injecting endotoxin in people after they did 2-3 cycles of Win Hof breathing technique, they had no symptoms as the adrenaline and immune system are helping to combat the infection.

To raise the stress threshold we can deliberately increase the adrenaline by rapid breathing or cold exposure and to practice to feel emotionally comfortable in that state. In that instance, there is a dissociation between the body and the mind: the body is under stress with the increase of adrenaline but the mind is calm and relaxed. Over time, we can feel more comfortable with the increase of adrenaline from stress.

3- When stressed the sympathetic system is activated and the pupil dilates to create a tunnel vision to narrow the focus to evaluate the environment and sharpen cognition. By deliberately broaden the gaze to panoramic vision to see yourself in the environment, it can creates relaxation in the mind.

4- Lateral eye movement used in Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) – Francine Shapiro

EMDR is designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories.

When we are emotionally stressed if we can move forward such as walking, it will help to reduce stress. The brain does not know that the limbs are moving, so by doing lateral eye movements during therapy, it is sensed as a forward movement like confrontation and it quietens the amygdale.

5- Meditation, mindfulness, yoga, hypnosis, exercises.

They are the classical effective means to reduce stress.


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