Panoramic gaze

4 Totally Free Techniques to Help You Reduce Stress During Lockdown

With lockdown looking like it will stick around longer than we had hoped, we’re trying every trick in the book to stay on top of our physical and mental health at Uplift Recruitment. Since we can’t go to yoga, our usual gym classes, or hit the sauna, we’re sharing a few new totally free (and restriction compliant) techniques to help us reduce stress during lockdown.

Screen Drain

Like us, most of you are spending considerable amounts of time in front of screens and tethered to keyboards. In fact, during lockdown in 2020, Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) saw daytime usage increase by 70-80% over figures in February 2020. Yikes, that’s a lot of screen time! Now, more than ever, we use computers, smartphones, and the television to work, learn, connect with friends and colleagues, relax, be entertained, and even celebrate milestones like birthdays.

The problem with all this screen time is that we have trouble disconnecting. We obsessively check email, work, or play video games at all times of the day and night. We report troubles falling and staying asleep, decreases in motivation, and increases in depression and anxiety.

Creating Your Stress Reduction Bag of Tricks

The key to staying sane and healthy despite lockdown and crazily increased screen exposure is a solid daily routine that involves self-curating a mix of tactics that gets you in the right frame of mind every day. We’ve talked about using meditation, mindfulness, and a strict morning routine before on our blog, but today we want to give you 4 more tips to reduce stress that are free and accessible to everyone everywhere.

The following 4 techniques come from Dr. Andrew Huberman PhD, associate professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology at Stanford University. Dr. Huberman has studied the effect of light and vision on the brain for over 20 years. Besides being based in Dr. Huberman’s expertise, the best part about these techniques is that they are completely “free.” They don’t cost you anything to try out. You may find they help you reduce stress, control your moods, and get more out of your recovery time. Or maybe they just won’t work for you. But you’ve got nothing to lose because you can’t go, well, anywhere, but your living room for the time being. So, add these free techniques to your repertoire and let us know how you go in the comments!

Breathing:

Breathing is such a powerful tool lauded by gurus from every background pretty much since religion started. You breath can help you relax, focus, get pumped up, and control your mind and body. Today, we’re going to focus on the ability of slow, concentrated breathing to calm our fight or flight response.

Our fight or flight response is an instinctual reaction that humans developed to help us jump into action in the fact of danger. When your fight or flight response kicks in, your heart rate and breathing speed up and stress hormones like cortisol start pumping through your bloodstream, preparing your body to either fight or run. If the threat is an on coming car, the response will cause you to run out of the way and is beneficial. When the threat is your third grader’s home schooling packet, the response is not particularly helpful and can be detrimental.

That’s where breathing comes in… You can use breathing to calm yourself down in the face of perceived but non-life threatening danger by simply exhaling slowly thought you nose. You can take this one step further with the “Physiological Sigh.” Dr. Huberman says that 2 or 3 “Physiological Sighs” are the quickest way to bring your physiological response back to baseline.

Try this: reduce your stress and heart rate with the “Physiological Sigh”

What is a Physiological Sigh? Just double inhale through your nose and then exhale slowly through the mouth and repeat 2-3 times.

If you are interested, Dr. Huberman explains this technique on this video from 3:15-5:30.

Next time you feel yourself getting worked up (and it’s not because of a lion or oncoming traffic), try using the Physiological Sigh to relax and tell your fight or flight response to chill.

Vision:

You probably have felt stress causing a physical reaction in your body: your blood pressure rises and your breathing speeds up. But did you realise eyes also have a stress response?

Think about it. Your eyes are usually the conduit from which the brain receives the alert. The eyes read a horrifying news headline, see a car accident, or read a credit card bill. Not only do the eyes transmit this information to the brain, but they also react to the information. Your field of vision narrows, enabling you to focus only on the threat and forget the peripheral.

Dr. Huberman’s research sought ways for us to actively create the opposite conditions with our vision. He found we can actually turn off the stress response by changing the way that we are viewing our environment, regardless of what’s in that environment by using panoramic vision or optic flow.

Try this: reset after stressful or focused work with panoramic vision

Panoramic vision occurs when are looking up and around, such as gazing at the horizon, but not focusing too heavily on any one thing. Doing so is an act Huberman calls, “deliberate decompression,” which relaxes our brain and tells us release our tight focus.

Furthermore, Dr. Huberman asserts that our focus is linked to how we perceive time. When our focus is narrow, say on our phone or laptop, we will perceive more events per time unit. When we relax (horizon, panoramic gaze), our perception of time broadens.

Try looking up and around the room or out the window and relaxing your gaze between Zoom calls. Dr. Huberman explains panoramic vision vs. focal vision much better than we ever could here.

Light:

Another free and easy technique to help you reduce stress is managing your exposure to light.

Reboot your morning routine by getting 2-10 minutes of light exposure when you wake up. Getting out for an early morning dog walk, swim, or just a lap around the block means you’ll get sunlight on your face and in your eyes first thing which sets forward rhythms that are positive for mental and physical health and absolutely crucial for sleep.

As Dr. Huberman said, “If sunlight reaches your eyes soon after you wake, it triggers a neural circuit that controls the timing of the hormones cortisol and melatonin, which affect sleep. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a night owl or a morning dove – the important thing is to get some sun for at least a few minutes soon after getting out of bed.” He explains more here on his Instagram.

Try this: improve your sleep by getting sunlight on your face when you wake up

Sunset is another time that Huberman recommends getting sun exposure in order to set circadian rhythms and prepare your body for sleep. Even he claims that getting light in your eyes before nightfall (sunset), can buffer against light used (screens) later on at night.

Lastly, Huberman recommends that you turn off all overhead lighting and generally limit screen exposure from 10-11 PM to 4 AM. Use a dimmer or place lights low in your room.

The point is natural light can set a schedule for your body that will improve sleep. Use the sunrise and sunset to set your natural rhythms and then keep light at minimum during the time you are meant to be sleeping.

Cold

Have you heard of Wim Hoff? If not, you must watch this Vice Documentary instead of your nightly Netflix binge.

If you watched this video or know anything about Wim Hoff, you know why he’s called the “Iceman.” You’ll also know that he has put his body and mind through incredible environmental stress and not only survived, but thrived.

Is there a method to his madness?

Essentially, the “Wim Hoff Method” is a program of meditation, breathing exercises, and exposure to cold. But Hoff did not invent cold therapy and he certainly isn’t the only one to harness its potential.

Multiple studies have shown that taking cold showers, a cold plunge, or ice bath helps reset your stress response and improves your mental resilience by strengthening the parasympathetic response to stress. In other words, if you can sit for 3 minutes in an ice bath and stay calm, you’ll be able to handle physical stress in other situations. Studies have shown that regular cold showers can boost your immune system, help burn fat, and promote weight loss. Afterward, many cold therapy practitioners feel a “natural high” from all the feel-good brain chemicals that your brain releases during cold exposure. These include the release of alertness promoting noradrenaline and “happy hormone” beta-endorphin.

According to Professor Otto Muzik, Ph.D. of Wayne State University, we shouldn’t be surprised that cold makes us feel so good. He noted that, “The Wim Hof Method may promote the spontaneous release of opioids and cannabinoids in the brain. This effect has the potential to create a feeling of well-being, mood control and reduced anxiety,”  when he studied Hoff’s brain during cold exposure.

Try this: take a cold shower or go for a cold ocean plunge!

Feel good chemicals not enough for you to stick a toe in the ice bath? This article sums up 10 pretty darn good reasons to take the polar plunge!

At Uplift Recruitment, we love learning about the brain and little techniques to help you reduce stress like breathing, your vision, light, and cold exposure that can disrupt old patterns of thinking and feeling. We know being at home 24/7 without knowing how long this will last wears us down. Yet, opportunities for personal growth exist even in the worst conditions. It’s really up to you to decide how you want to use this time. To quote author Ryan Holiday, “is it alive time or dead time?” Which will you choose? Now it’s your turn, take 1, 2, 3, or all 4 of these free techniques and use them to reduce your stress during lockdown. We’d love to hear what worked for you in the comments!

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