The science of stress

When it comes to stress, we all know exactly how it feels. Everyone experiences their own set of warning signs and sensations. Biting your nails maybe? Rubbing your temples? Sighing loudly?

What you may not know, is that whatever it looks like on the outside, it's the same process going on inside all of us when we're stressed.

In this state of mind we're being governed by our sympathetic nervous system. This can be useful sometimes, but feeling like this all the time is bad for physical and mental health.

The good news? Luma³ can help.

The body's systems

We'd all agree that stress and relaxation are not two things we can do at the same time. Well... it turns out that this is a biological certainty, as our body has entirely different systems for these two emotional states.

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The sympathetic nervous system gears up our body for stressful 'fight or flight' situations. The parasympathetic nervous system has the opposite effect and calms our body, prompting us to 'rest and digest'.

These two systems are wired through our entire body as part of the autonomic nervous system and so when they activate they have a profound effect on how we think and feel as well as what we are physically and emotionally capable of. They control our heart rate, breathing, digestion, muscles and even how well and clearly we can think.

When we feel stressed, our breathing position changes. We take small, shallow breaths, using our shoulders and upper chest. This type of breathing creates an imbalance in the gases in our body. It can prolong feelings of anxiety and stress by making the physical sensations worse.

These systems have been with us right through our evolution and are present in most vertebrates. Their function is to keep us alive by automatically deciding when we need to be ready to fight or when it's safe to relax.

Old systems, new world

The problem? They're not very well adapted for our modern lives or the world we now live in.

Our lives aren't bipolar in this way. We don't experience 'safety' and 'danger' as two discreet and obvious situations. And so... our body often gets it wrongIn our current lives, our sympathetic nervous system can be triggered by many things for which the physiological response is not always helpful.

An email from a boss? A difficult meeting? A long to-do list? Family disagreements?

None of these require us to engage with a fight to the death or to run for our lives, but that's exactly what our body gets us ready for. It does it quickly too; as soon as we perceive a threat it takes control before we know it.

The worst part is, it takes our bodies much longer for the parasympathetic system to engage and calm us back down. If we keep triggering our bodies stress response it can have both short and long term negative effects on our bodies and minds.

 
 

The solution

Don't worry if reading this page so far has activated your stress response. As we've discussed, our body has the solution built directly into it.

Our breathing is one of the things that's wired into the autonomic nervous system. The good news is, science has proven that this relationship isn't one way as was once believed.

By consciously controlling the speed, depth and duration of our breathing we can activate our "rest and digest" response by stimulating the parasympathetic system.

This is where Luma³ really shines. It has four different patterns of breathing built in and intuitively guide you through these in as little as 5 minutes.

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Conscious breathing

Conscious breathing is proven to help move our body from a stressed state to one of rest and relaxed focus by activating our parasympathetic nervous system. It does this in a couple of ways.

  1. The position of our breath is important. When we are stressed we take shallow breaths at the top of our chest. By consciously moving this to the stomach and breathing with our diaphragm we help promote relaxation.
     

  2. Controlling the speed and duration, especially the ratio of our inhalation and exhalations. Luma³ makes this part easy and enjoyable through it's four different guided conscious breathing cycles.

By slowing down our breathing, and extending the lengths of our exhalations, we signal to the body that we are safe and activate the "rest and digest" response. Because the two systems are effectively opposites, this supresses the stress response. In this state our body feels calm, our muscles relax and we feel a sense of wellbeing.

This happens within minutes of starting conscious breathing and the effects can be immediate.

Habit forming and neuroplasticity

Like with anything, the more you practice, the better you get. This is well known and accepted. But did you ever actually think about why?

When we learn something new, we physically change the structure of our brains. We grow new connections in a way that means we can repeat what we are learning more easily next time. The next time we practice we strengthen and re-inforce these new connections so they fire more easily in the future. If we practise enough, they fire so easily that things start to feel automatic. A good example of this is driving a car. At first it takes a lot of mental effort, but with regular practice it become second nature. We call this neuroplasticity.

This amazing property of our brain can also work against us. Our response to our environment is entirely governed by what we have learned to do any given situation, be it driving a car, or sitting at our laptop. If we have learned to associate certain stimulus, like an email from our boss or a missed call on our phone, as a threat, then our body will respond with a stress response. The more time we feel this way while we work, the stronger the association becomes and the two things become entangled in our brains at a physiological level.

Essentially you are unconsciously forming a habit of feeling stressed at work. In some cases the two become so entangled that just thinking about work brings on feelings of stress.

A new healthy habit

More good news. This is also something we can take control of. If we practice feeling calm while we work then we can change our brains automatic responses.

By regularly taking breaks and doing something that helps us feel calm, such as conscious breathing, we learn to feel calm while we work. This is the same learning process taking place, but now we're in control of it and can turn things in our favour.

If we continue to regularly practice, just like driving a car, the calm responses to stressful situations start to happen automatically. Eventually feeling calm becomes second nature.

Luma³ helps you do this, by assisting you with little and often breaks for conscious breathing. Once an hour you'll get a gentle nudge from Luma³ to take a 5 minute break. You'll then be guided through your choice of four conscious breathing techniques. Luma³ then resets the clock and goes back to sleep while you work.

Of course, you can also just pick up Luma³ when ever you like and it will wake up, ready to guide you through conscious breathing for as long as you like.