4 Simple Brain Hacks to Reduce Stress

Use Your Body to Shift Your Mind from a Place of Fear to Empowerment

Photo by Darius Bashar on Unsplash

When your mind is calm, your body follows. The reciprocal is just as true. Your mind responds to what you do with your body. It is a constant feedback loop — what happens in one affects the other.

There are many practices that help our minds relax from the grip of unnecessarily stressful thinking, such as meditation. As we consciously let go of stress, our body can redirect its focus to healing and maintenance.

We can also use our body to bring more peace to our mind. Embodied cognition is a concept that relates how the body’s motor system affects the state of the mind. There are methods that can act as shortcuts to bringing on certain states of mind.

Depending on the mental state we want to achieve, here are 5 simple practices that can be of benefit:

During times of stress, our breathing quickens. When we consciously slow down our breathing, we are letting our mind know that we are ok. When our mind realizes we are safe, it is easier for our bodies to relax.

Our autonomic nervous system has two main branches: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic system. The first helps prepare us for action, activating the fight or flight response when necessary. The latter aids in relaxation, rest, repair, and digestion. Breathing in activates the sympathetic nervous system. Breathing out activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Consequently, lengthening our exhalations can help us relax further. This is why the advice to take a deep breath when we’re stressed is so common. It offsets the continuous activation of the sympathetic nervous system that we experience when we unconsciously breathe in more than we breathe out.

2) POWER POSING
We are all aware of the power of non-verbal communication. You can tell how well a friend is listening by their level of eye contact and their body posture for example. In the same way, the way we hold our bodies affects what we think about ourselves.

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy, widely known for her Ted talk on this subject, names this the “postural feedback effect.” When we hold our bodies in a manner that is open, relaxed and exudes confidence, our minds adjust accordingly. On the other hand, when we hold our bodies in a closed off, guarded, or constricted manner, our thoughts start mirroring these postures. The longer we remain in a certain posture, the more it affects our minds.

Two systems are believed to drive most human feelings, thoughts, behaviors and even physiology — approach and avoidance (i.e., inhibition). When our approach system is activated, we are happier, more optimistic, more confident, more creative, more likely to take action, more likely to seek rewards and opportunities, more physically energetic and less inhibited, among other things. Activation of the inhibition systems leads to the opposite effects. According to the well-established approach/inhibition theory of power, power activates the approach system, whereas powerlessness activates the inhibition system.

- David Bielo on Idea.Ted.Com https://ideas.ted.com/inside-the-debate-about-power-posing-a-q-a-with-amy-cuddy/

Important meeting coming up? Take a few minutes beforehand to adopt a posture that exudes confidence with your back straight and head held high. Want to master your morning mindset? Spend a few minutes dancing to an upbeat song or doing some warrior yoga poses. Feel your own strength and courage during these postures to multiply the positive effect on your mind.

3) MIND-BODY PRACTICES
Combining intentional movements with awareness of the breath, there are many wonderful practices that help restore balance in the mind. The most widely known ones include Yoga, Tai Chi, and Qi-Gong. All can result in increased physical strength and flexibility along with greater mental clarity.

There are numerous reasons for their positive effect on the mind, but two of them trace right back to the two strategies mentioned above.

  • Mind-body practices help us bring more consciousness to our breathing, thus restoring the balance between the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system.
  • They also activate the approach system which boosts our level of physical energy and thus our likelihood to take action to seek rewards and opportunities.

4) SMILING
Your brain doesn’t know the difference between a genuine and a fake smile. When you smile, good-feeling neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, rush into your bloodstream. As a result, your heart rate and blood pressure go down and your body relaxes.

While a genuine smile will have a much greater positive effect on your body, even the attempt to smile in a tough situation gives your brain a signal that things may not be as bad as they seem. Next time you feel down, make a few silly faces in front of the mirror. Bring a smile to your own face and allow your body to translate that effect to your mind. Happy face, happy mind.

A soul who is passionate about sharing insights from neuroscience and personal growth to help make mindfulness mainstream. www.dreamdoubtdoitanyway.com

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