Can stress be good for us? Yes, but it’s the type and length of the stress that is important and usually always a physical stressor.
I experienced this for myself a few years ago when I decided to take a break from being a therapist and do something completely different. I worked in the North of Scotland on a working croft/eco-hutting, camping site called The Lazy Duck. I was there during an extremely cold winter (regularly -10C during the night, warming up to -1 to -3C during the day!). I was outdoors for most of the day, everyday, doing a lot of physical work. Even on my days off I usually did 10 mile hikes.
What was the result of this?
During those eight months I was the fittest, healthiest and slimmest I’d been in decades, and I can’t remember once complaining about being tired…
I was often challenged in sometimes quite extreme circumstances, but I was also the most relaxed and happiest I’ve been in a long time and my sleep improved 200%.
I now understand the biological process behind this. What I was doing to my body was rejuvenating the mitochondria and increasing their resistance to stressors. We talk a lot about rewiring the brain for greater resilience to stress, but there is now a lot of emphasis on physical rewiring at a cellular level.
This process of inducing stress to increase resilience is called hormesis and is defined as a mild to acute temporary stressor that increases resistance to long term stress and enhances health – on all levels.
Some examples of hormesis:
- Exercise is a form of hormesis which is stressful to the body but over time increases our resilience when it comes to increased activity.
- Cold exposure (championed by Wim Hoff in recent years). This increases our immune response and our ability to handle stress of all kinds.
- Heat exposure (I prefer this one!) such as steam or infra-red saunas
- Fasting – so many benefits. And so many ways of doing it.
- Breath holding or inducing hypoxia – temporarily starving the body of oxygen – this has massive benefits for oxygen saturation and the CO2 balance of our blood cells. It actually forces our cells to release the stores of oxygen we have – and don’t worry we soon replenish those stores. In Russia they have amassed three decades of research as it is used by athletes to improve endurance and strength
Hypoxia is probably the simplest and most immediate thing we can do right now to reduce fatigue and boost health.
It also greatly decreases anxiety.
There are a few ways to practice (look up youtube for more) but I like the following one that is based on ancient yoga practices best.
It uses what is called fire breathing in yoga. Now obviously if you are very fatigued just do one round of the following and only take 10-20 rapid breaths.
Otherwise try 3-5 rounds a few times daily and monitor how you feel. If you wish, have a timer nearby to monitor how long you hold your breath and to gauge daily improvement.
To Practise Hypoxia:
- Take 30-40 very rapid and forceful breaths (in and out a second) through the nose. You should feel this in the belly, as if the belly is pumping the breath.
- After this, immediately breathe out all the air you can, then when you think you’ve exhaled fully, push out a little more (there’s always a bit more!)
- Hold your breath for as long as possible.
- Take a breath in and repeat the cycle 2 – 5 times more.
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