Thursday, January 23, 2014

Stressed = Stupid ... Calm = Smart

Last time I spoke about the two branches of our nervous system, the sympathetic (responsible for our stress response) and the parasympathetic (for relaxed awareness). The parasympathetic mode is the way we should be spending the vast majority of our existence, going into the stressed out sympathetic mode only in times of emergency.

Unfortunately, that's not how most of us operate these days. Traffic jams, parent teacher meetings, work deadlines, social conflicts – all of these things and more have the potential to put us into sympathetic mode.

Being in sympathetic mode shuts down our higher thinking abilities. It shunts blood and energy resources away from things that help us think into areas that make us more able to do, to move, the run away or to fight. Makes sense if you've got a saber-toothed tiger chasing you, but in a traffic jam? Not so much.

Think about how many stressors you encounter on a day to day basis that would benefit from physically fighting or getting up and running away. Probably none, most days.

Now think about how many stressful situations would benefit from you having access to all your mental capabilities: thinking up alternate routes, better time management strategies, ways to amicably solve social conflicts.

Engagement of the vagus nerve can be an extremely effective strategy in our modern stressful landscape since it inhibits the sympathetic nervous system and engages to parasympathetic. It literally is the “breath of happiness”!

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