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5 reasons why your body will thank you for calming down

Let’s start with the basics: our stress and non-stress states are triggered by the concert and coordination of the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems in our body. To put it simply, when we perceive danger, the former will trigger the dilation of our pupils and the other will cause it to constrict, once the danger has passed. Now, we’re mostly toddling along in a state that’s somewhere between the two, but any trigger can cause the sympathetic nervous system to trip the alarm. And when this happens, as it needs to if you were a caveman and were faced with a tiger, your heart rate will go up, your digestive system will go on standby and adrenaline will pump through your body, so you can run away from danger, fight it or freeze into invisibility.

All this is action based on instinct, there’s not much logic or thinking in play during this time, just action based on auto-pilot, old habits, primeval settings in our brain. But we have the parasympathetic system too, which we can, at least, partly control, which puts our ‘danger responses’ on standby.

This system’s nerves exist primarily in the cranium, but also in the sacrum (the region of our tail bone). I wonder if it’s a coincidence that in Hindu tantric thought, the sacral chakra or ‘energy centre’ is associated with grounding, stability, focus, and the joy that arises from controlling passions. And that our third eye chakra (believed to be located in the centre of our forehead) is the seat of conscious choice making and discrimination — something that takes a back seat when danger is perceived.


Let’s look at some reasons why we could probably work on these chakras of ours!

1. WE SEE DANGER EVERYWHERE: Our caveman ancestors came across tigers or venomous snakes once every few days or weeks, and they passed pretty quickly (or resulted in that particular ancestor being eaten or killed), and so did the danger. But in today’s life, every email notification, looming deadline, fear of social falling, not being good enough, triggers a danger response in us. This pumps our bodies with unhealthy amounts of stress hormones, ages us, shortens the protective telomeres in our chromosomes, makes us vulnerable to disease and generally makes us miserable.

2. LONG TERM STRESS IS NOT OUR FRIEND: Long term stress causes our cortisol or stress response to malfunction…and results in malfunctioning of several other systems in our body — we recognize these well now, but some of them include menstrual and sexual dysfunction, hair, skin problems, cardiovascular and mental health problems, among others.

3. WE GET FAT, BLOATED: Our digestion goes for a toss! I mean, can you possibly fight that tiger and fully digest a meal at the same time? And yet, we wolf down our food, often while we’re in a state of stress and jump right back into the jungle before our body has a chance to break down the food and absorb and assimilate the nutrients. Oh, stress also slows down digestion and increases the absorption of fat and sugar, which you’d need to fight that tiger! This leads to gastrointestinal problems and obesity.

4. WE CAN’T IMAGINE, THINK OUT OF THE BOX: Creativity and problem solving activity lie in the prefrontal cortex, so guess what is not going to be a priority, or even an option for your stressed out brain?

5. WE BECOME SELFISH AND FEARFUL: Long term thinking, compassion, balancing out of fears, rationalizing and evaluating danger are also impaired with both short and long term stressors.

The good news is that we can exercise strengthening the connection of pre-frontal cortex (our third eye) with the HPA axis (hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal). Our amygdala is the seat of our fight, fright and freeze, and it’s what sets off the HPA axis to release the stress hormone cortisol. But the HPA axis also speaks to the prefrontal cortex, which asses the risk and tells it to calm down, and lowers the production of cortisol, and eventually also turns on the parasympathetic nervous system.

Simple things that we can do to strengthen this connection are:

1. Reduce the number of pings, buzzes, flashes, alerts and red signals on our phones and devices.

2. Reduce the number of things — work, activities, social commitments we say yes to.

3. Not try to multitask. Our brain is not really capable of doing it. We’re just rapidly switching from one task to the other and back.

4. Move our bodies more. This dissipates the stress hormones and floods our bodies with energising and feel good hormones. Pro athletes are actually highly parasympathetic, believe it or not!

5. Seek love and support. This reduces our stress responses and causes feel good and nurturing hormones to flow.

6. Incorporate a mindfulness practice into our lives…the easiest being using the breath to bring us back to the present moment. Slowed breathing can activate the parasympathetic system, especially on the exhalation. And yes, you could try a chakra mediation too!

Let’s remind ourselves that the parasympathetic system is not just ‘rest and digest’ but also sleep, repair and well-being. In short, it makes us feel truly human, less robotic, less like prey. That’s reason enough to calm down!

(Article as appeared on

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