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Using Breathwork and Exposure Training to Control Your Stress Response

Taming your fight or flight response

What do you do when someone cuts you off in traffic? How about when you get into an argument with your partner? What about when you are in the middle of a difficult workout and want to quit? Or when everything in your life just doesn’t seem to go as planned? All of these situations are stressors. What we don’t always realize is that we get to control how we respond to these situations. We are the ones that are in control of our response to these situations. We can either become emotional and reactionary to the situation or we can take a minute, survey what is happening and respond appropriately. From my experience, breath work and exposure to extreme cold and heat help give you the tools to respond in an appropriate manner.

There are a multitude of benefits to both of these techniques, from improving cardiovascular health, strengthened immune system, better sleep, aiding in fat loss, to improved athletic performance and recovery. In my life, the most beneficial benefit comes from the ability to handle stressors on a daily basis.

“If you know the art of breathing you have the strength, wisdom, and courage of ten tigers.” Chinese proverb

The breath is the remote control to our brain. The great thing about the breath is that it is free. Humans have been working with it for thousands of years and once you begin to explore your own breathing, it can take you to places you never imagined possible. With practice, one thing you will discover is the ability to control your physiological state to either ramp your system up or bring it down. Try it now, start breathing in and out of your mouth at a rapid pace, like you just went for a sprint. How did this make you feel? Did you become stressed and anxious or calm and relaxed? Now, breathe slowly in through your nose and slowly out through your nose. How did your state change? Explore these polarities of the breath and your mental state. The experience is yours and the power is within you.

“Fear does not go away by itself. You have to confront your fear, mold it, then learn to control it in it’s own irrational reality. Every human being has the power to do just that. To go deep within and confront your inner being is a powerful act. Going deep and developing the will power is the only way.” Wim Hof

If you really want to see how you can use your breath to control your stress response, step into a thirty-degree ice bath. There is something primal about exposure to the cold. When you first get into an ice bath, every ounce of your being is saying, “get the hell out of here.” It is the ultimate in the fight, flight, or freeze responses. The cold teaches us that we have control over our reactions and that our breath can be used as a tool to control them. This is the main reason I love cold exposure. At that moment, you make the decision of either jumping out and running away from a perceived threat or calming the mind with slow diaphragmatic nasal breaths and working through the discomfort.

Putting it all together

Breathwork and exposure to extreme cold are two ways you can train yourself to be in control of your reaction to outside events. Breathing is something you must do every day. Why not take a few minutes and explore it on your own to see where it can take you. With a consistent practice, you will discover methods that can get you in a calm focused state before the big game or meeting. For example, you can learn not to over-react when your kids are going crazy and you are fighting with your partner. The ice is a powerful teacher and only amplifies the power of the breath. Everyone’s mind is telling them not to get into the ice but when you begin to over-ride that thought pattern, it will change you. You will find yourself able to adapt better to stressful situations and keep going when things get hard. At the end of the day, growth comes through discomfort. When we apply the appropriate dosage of stress to our life we are able to push ourselves to a higher level.

“If you don’t do something every day that makes you feel small, you haven’t really lived.” Laird Hamilton

Call to Action

If you enjoyed this post, signup for my free weekly newsletter The Long Game. The Long Game is a newsletter for people that want to grow and challenge themselves. It is about the drive to better ourselves mentally, physically, and spiritually while having the curiosity to enjoy the journey. If you are looking for more individualized help, please contact me. As an XPT certified coach, I can help you achieve a well-rounded lifestyle involving breath work, movement, and recovery.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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