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The power of three.

This week is rather unusual for me, it is filled with various events and encounters, spiced up with a slight weakness in my body and pleasant excitement coming from this new writing trajectory. Many things unfold simultaneously and ask for a lot of switching from one mode to another. In any case weeks like this require additional energies to flow through it, if i don’t want it to damage my whole system. I accumulated some tools and found my way to deal with such moments. Sometimes I manage, sometimes I don’t, but overall there is more awareness and honesty about how much i can take in and how much is enough. I got a sense that there is some sort of an internal line which determines that either I have a grip on the situation or I am losing it. If I cross it, I switch into survival, defensive, closed mode, trying to hold on to an illusion of control, get very tired, exhausted, unhappy with myself and mostly spiral into self-destructive behaviour by the end of the day to sooth the effects caused by all of the above. I even think I can physically feel the moment of trespassing which afterwards develops into precent bodily sensation in my chest accompanied with elevated heartbeat. The stronger my general condition is the further the line.

This morning I thought that perhaps this time I can use this sort of week differently. I feel quite strong at the moment, so that is a great opportunity to get playful with stress. I don’t recommend it in case you feel shaken, try to get the feeling of solid ground first and then jump into the fire. The de-centering technique I shared before is a good place to start wandering in the tensions of the day. In order to understand this switching experience let’s look inside of our physiology first, perhaps there is a clue. Take a seat and watch the body works. It gets to be a little technical but bare with me it will eventually help to make my point.

The autonomic nervous system is a system in our body that regulates bodily functions largely unconsciously. It is responsible for the heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, sweating, urination, and sexual arousal. This system is the primary mechanism in control of the fight-or-flight response. It consists of three elements: sympathetic and parasympathetic systems of the enteric nervous systems. It is also called “the second brain” as it is the autonomous system that controls the gastrointestinal behaviour.

But the other two parts are more interesting to have a closer look at and get a better idea about what happens when the day is loaded. In short, the sympathetic system prepares us to act when the situation requires a quick response. The parasympathetic system calms us down and doesn’t require immediate reaction, it is slower and “heavier” to move. These two systems are in opposition to each other but this opposition is better described as complementary in nature rather than antagonistic. An easy analogy is that the sympathetic system is seen as the accelerator and the parasympathetic as the brake. They work together reacting on whatever is happening with us in the moment.

Once we step out of an emotionally charged situation and look at the mechanics, it becomes clear that what our body is trying to do when we start getting impatient and uncomfortable, is that it wants to get us out of the situation, protect us from stress and possible danger. The sympathetic system is accelerating. But we know what is going on in our day right? I know it will be a busy week, I know I have to meet all these people, I know I didn’t sleep well last night, I know that it is cold and rainy outside, I know all of this contributes to the stress. I also know that it has nothing to do with the frustration I experience in a particular moment, it is caused by external circumstances. But the power of the “fight or flight” guardian is strong to take us over. Now is the time to remember about the "rest and digest” friend of ours - the parasympathetic system. So the challenge is how to switch from one to another.

Here is a little trick I’d like to share. I see it as a bridge one can make from one mode to another. A simple breathing exercise to get our parasympathetic system working. This technique is called straw breathing. Let’s try it together. Take a deep breath to fill up your belly with air. Now exhale very slowly as you would breath out through the straw. Long juicy exhale. Melt into the breath. Notice the body and the tension. Now breathe in once again. Deep belly breath and long exhale through the straw. Take only three breaths if you feel the moment of crossing the line is approaching. This simple yet powerful action is signal to your body that we know the source of the stress and we are ok with it. Don’t expect breathing will solve all the disturbances, stress is an advance and complex phenomena, but see this exercise as a little gesture of solidarity. From your conscious reasoning self to the unconscious guardian who means well but being slightly overprotective.

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