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Slowing Down for Better Health

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Whether it’s environmental or psychological, stressful events can trigger the release of stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, to induce the required physiological responses for us to handle different situations. These physiological reactions together are known as the “fight-or-flight” response, which is an essential survival mechanism that allows people and mammals to quickly get themselves out of life-threatening situations. However, this well-coordinated mechanism can be detrimental to health when it remains engaged due to non-emergency situations, including work pressures, financial worries or difficult relationships.

Scientific studies have found that chronic stress can lead to health conditions, such as high blood pressure and the formation of plaque in arteries. When we perceive a threat, whether it’s physical or emotional, the SNS will kick in and override the PNS. The heart starts to beat faster than normal, and the blood pressure increases. As the cortisol level drops, the parasympathetic nervous system will take over gradually. Doctors often refer to the parasympathetic nervous system as controlling the “rest and digest” functions in contrast to the “fight-or-flight” response of the sympathetic nervous system. When both systems are in balance, our body is in optimal health and working properly. Therefore, the key is being able to effectively deal with your stress and bring your body back to a calmer state.

One of the simplest ways to prevent your body from constantly being in “go-mode” is to take a step back from your work and allow yourself more time to complete a task. Alternatively, you may try to consciously perform tasks at a slower pace. For example, whatever you’re working on at the moment, do it at a pace that’s 25% slower than usual. A study has shown that brisk walking improves the sympathetic and parasympathetic balance.

Researchers found that breathing deeply from the diaphragm is another effective way to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Repeat the process a few times to allow your body to activate the calming response. However, if you are dealing with chronic stress, you may want to practice it several times a day to see improvements.
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