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Master Stress: Tools For Managing Stress & Anxiety

Key Takeaways

  • Stress is a generic system the body uses to turn on what it needs, turn off what it doesn’t, and stimulate the body or mouth to move to action

  • We can’t control the external world but can – and should – do our best to control how we respond to things

  • “We can’t use the mind to control the mind, we need tools” – Dr. Andrew Huberman

  • The goal of all stress management is to remain calm of mind when the body is activated

  • The physiological sigh is the best real-time tool to calm down: two inhales through the nose followed by an extended exhale through the mouth

  • Managing medium-term stress (stress lasting days to weeks) is best done by increasing your stress threshold through short, difficult bursts to become more comfortable at higher levels of activation – try sprints, cold shower, bike intervals, etc.

  • Social connections (e.g., significant other, platonic, pet, joy of participating in or watching event) mitigates long-term stress by releasing serotonin and suppressing tachykinin

What Is Stress?

  • The heart of stress lies at whether our internal experience and external experience align

  • All species experience stress

  • Stress is a generic system used to mobilize other systems in the brain and body to respond

  • Systems for stress are genetically encoded which means we have the power to control them

Stressors Versus Stress

  • Stressors: psychological (difficulty balancing work and social life) or physical (out in the cold without a jacket) things which stress us out

  • Stress: the psychological and physiological response to stressors

  • The stress system doesn’t distinguish between physiological and psychological stressors

  • The neurons that control stress run from the neck to naval

  • A chain of neurons becomes activated in response to stressor and release acetylcholine (which is otherwise used to move muscles)

  • Neurons release epinephrine which either activates things that need to respond to stressor – and – activates receptors on things we don’t need to calm them

  • Stress response: (1) generic; (2) pushes what we need, turns off what we don’t need; (3) stimulates body to move to action or say something

How To Reduce Or Eliminate Stress

  • The best real-time tools to reduce stress will impact the autonomic nervous system

  • The parasympathetic nervous system has certain levers we can use to push back on the nervous system

  • It’s hard to control the mind, using the mind – if we’re stressed or tired it’s difficult to channel gratitude, peace, other important mind mechanisms

  • By using the body instead of the brain, we’ll be able to free the mind to speak more clearly, control muscles of face and jaw, and generally relax

  • In stress or high alertness, we want to leverage the fact that we can control our diaphragm and breathing

  • When you inhale, diaphragm moves down, and heart gets larger, so blood moves slower

  • This sends a signal to the brain to speed up heart rate

  • To increase heart rate – inhale longer and/or more vigorous than exhale

  • When you exhale, diaphragm moves up, heart gets smaller and more compact, so blood moves more quickly

  • This sends a signal to the brain to slow down heart rate

  • To slow heart rate down – exhale longer and/or more vigorous than inhale

  • Fastest method to calm down in real time: physiological sigh (this is not breath work) – there’s a real relationship between brain, body, diaphragm, and heart

  • Physiological sigh: two inhales through the nose followed by an extended exhale through the mouth

  • What doesn’t work: telling yourself (or others) to calm down

Nasal Versus Mouth Breathing

  • Nasal breathing is more advantageous than mouth breathing in many cases

  • For physiological sigh, it’s most ideal to inhale through the nose, exhale through mouth – but if that’s not feasible it’s ok through the mouth

  • Books on breathing: Breath by James Nestor

Short-term Stress

  • Acute stress is good for the immune system

  • Signs of short-term stress: dilation of pupils, changes in optics of eyes, increase in heart rate, sharpening of cognition, narrow but sharp focus to respond at the moment

  • Stress often comes in the form of bacterial or viral infection so the body’s response is to release epinephrine/adrenaline to combat infection

  • When adrenaline is released in the body it liberates killer cells from immune organs to combat and suppress incoming infection

  • Note about Tummo or Wim Hof style breathing: this is basically rapid, deliberate hyperventilation – this will make you feel alert and liberate adrenaline

  • Procrastination is how we turn on short-term stress and cue our body to work

  • If you are no longer able to sleep, you are leaving “good” short-term stress and entering harmful long-term stress

Medium-term Stress

  • Medium-stress lasts anywhere from several days to several weeks

  • A lot of managing stress is about raising capacity

  • The goal of managing stress: be calm of mind when the body is activated

  • Stress threshold: ability to cognitively regulate what is happening in mind and body

  • Method to manage medium-term stress: place yourself deliberately in a situation of stress (sprint, cold shower, fast bike, etc.) and make your mind comfortable with the response

  • Relax the mind while the body is active so what once felt like a lot, becomes manageable

  • Use body to bring up the level of activation then dissociate the physical response – you will become more comfortable at higher activation states

Long-term Stress

  • Stress has its benefits but long-term stress is bad

  • Chronic stress leads to heart disease because of the way adrenaline impacts blood vessels

  • Things we know to mitigate long-term stress: regular exercise, enough sleep, social connection

  • Social connection mitigates long-term stress by leveraging serotonin which has positive effects on the immune system and connections in the brain

  • Social connection can be to other people, romantic, plutonic, pets – and even just attachment to things we take joy in seeing or participating in

  • The body secretes higher levels of tachykinin when we are not socially connected enough

  • Tachykinin symptoms: increased irritability, paranoia, fear, loneliness

Supplements To Help Manage Stress

  • Not recommended to supplement with melatonin since over the counter doses are much higher than produced in the body

  • Melatonin can suppress puberty response in species and reduce output of adrenals

  • L-theanine for chronic stress: can take 100-200mg before sleep to blunt response to stress and encourage stress management and reduced anxiety

  • Ashwagandha reduces cortisol associated with short- and medium-term stress

  • Ashwagandha also lowers cholesterol and has mild effects in reducing depression


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