Doctor Neha: Hi and welcome. We have a returning special guest. This is Grazzia, welcome. You and I recently did a video blog where you asked what question.
Grazzia: I asked how do I make time for myself and how do I relax because I’m always on and I’m always pushing myself to my limit. I need help taking a deep breath.
Doctor Neha: So you had asked me, “How do I relax? How do I do this?” So often there’s an overactive mind behind this. Tell me first of all, what do you enjoy doing to relax? So you always want to tap in first to your natural ways that you like to relax. So what are those?
Grazzia: I sleep, and I exercise.
Doctor Neha: Wait a minute—do you sleep or do you crash on your bed?
Grazzia: Crash on my bed. Not even on my bed. I crash on the couch.
Doctor Neha: It’s like you drive all the way to the point where you can’t even get two more steps right to your bed. So one way you do it is you crash on the couch or you crash in your bed. What’s the other way?
Grazzia: I exercise. I’ll go for a run or go to the gym. That’s when I feel healthy. When I feel like I’m doing something healthy, then I feel healthy and I feel better. And then talking to friends and socializing helps me be around other people—that brings my energy up.
Doctor Neha: And what about how you fuel yourself? How do you fuel yourself for energy? Do you have any thoughts around that? Like food?
Grazzia: As you know, I eat very healthy. I’m very conscious about what I put inside my body. So I avoid junk food. I avoid soda. I avoid a lot of foods that I know aren’t necessarily going to help me.
Doctor Neha: So sugary foods. You already do a lot in the physical world. Everything you just described to me was physical with the exception of talking to friends, which was social. “So I crashed on the couch. I sleep. This is how I eat. These are the things that I do. And then I talk to my friends as well.” Okay. So tell me how busy your mind is on a scale of 0 to 100 with 100 being busy, busy bee.
Grazzia: I’d say around 80-85.
Doctor Neha: So it’s busy but it’s not overactive and busy. All right. One thing I want you to know is that sleep is amazing. When you’re sleeping, not only do you heal yourself, you’re strengthening your immune system. It’s the body’s downtime to go and do repair. It’s cleanup time. So if you think of a stadium or a sporting event or a concert, there’s the event. Then when everybody leaves there’s downtime. What’s everybody doing in the stadium then?
Grazzia: Cleaning up.
Doctor Neha: Cleaning up, maintenance. Well, that’s what your body does and your immune system does while you’re sleeping. Now what a lot of people don’t know is what your immune system also does is that it helps you process emotional experiences while you sleep. In fact, it can prioritize that over your physical health and healing. So when you feel like you’re going too much and you’re trying too hard, do you sometimes have negative thoughts in your head or feel certain emotions when it’s getting to be too much?
Grazzia: I get really agitated and angry.
Doctor Neha: And whom do you take that out on? Because that usually goes somewhere.
Grazzia: Yeah, I take it out on my family a lot at the time. I’ll apologize afterwards, but I just get overwhelmed and I get so mad that I just start yelling.
Doctor Neha: That’s a response a lot of people have. You know why you’re so brave. You’re so brave because you actually admitted it out loud. Some people say, “Oh, nothing is wrong.” They just get overwhelmed—and it shows up emotionally and mentally. So your ability to communicate with yourself and your body and listen early are going to allow you to pause. One technique that is going to help you in the moment—and no one else needs to know it—is knowing your own body’s signals. How do you know when you’re tired? How do you feel it in your body? How do you know when you’re starting to get exhausted?
Grazzia: I can’t keep my eyes open at all. No matter how hard I try, I doze off and I feel very, very slow. All my movements—how I walk, how I talk, even my thoughts—everything is in slow motion. I know that it’s because I’m tired.
Doctor Neha: Now I want you to go back a step earlier because those signs are end stage right before you’re falling on the couch. Pay attention to your signals because your body is talking to you earlier than that. Tell me what comes before that.
Grazzia: My eye kind of twitches, which is weird.
Doctor Neha: Which eye?
Grazzia: My right eye.
Doctor Neha: Okay. It twitches. It’s not weird.
Grazzia: You can’t see it. If you were looking at me, you can’t see that my eye’s twitching, but I can feel it twitching.
Doctor Neha: That’s when you know you’re running yourself down. But your vision is not changing, right?
Doctor Neha: Good. That’s the doctor in me wanting to make sure that everything’s OK here. So your eye is twitching. Now I want you to go a little bit before that. Before your eyes starts twitching, what’s happening before that?
Grazzia: I don’t know.
Doctor Neha: Okay, so this is a great place for you to notice when to slow down. You have to know where this feedback signal is coming from in your body. It’s pretty easy to blow by a twitching eye. You can think, I gotta keep going.
Here’s the other thing. How good are you at saying no? For instance, deciding to sit out this competition or this experience.
Grazzia: No, I’m so stubborn!
Doctor Neha: It’s interesting that you say that. There’s an author, Louise Hay, who wrote about how the body maps out to different parts of our emotional self. I want to read you what knee problems are. You ready? Stubborn ego, pride, inability to bend, fear, inflexibility, won’t give in. Now, here’s the new thought pattern because you can change this: forgiveness, understanding and compassion (for yourself); I bend and flow with ease all.
Doctor Neha: Knee and flexibility, right? It all goes together. Now I’m not saying that’s straight scientific data, but I thought it was interesting. It’s something to think about.
So here’s the deal. Let’s give you some tools. It doesn’t seem like you have trouble falling asleep. So I don’t need to give you some mindfulness practices to help you go to sleep or stay asleep. You crash and you’re out. So let’s try something else. I would say there are times in your day when you are just waiting, in line, for someone to come pick you up. There’s waiting that’s going on because you’re not driving yourself.
Grazzia: Not yet.
Doctor Neha: So there’s a lot of waiting time. There’s also car time with family or when you’re not socializing with your friends or when people are busy. So do you remember soft belly breathing?
Doctor Neha: I imagine that you don’t have any extra time in the day for me to start giving you things to do on top of all the things you’re already doing. But you do have to breathe. So become conscious about it. I want you to feel your ribs with your hands and around your rib cage and then go all the way down your ribs to your waist. Do you see how much space is in your chest cavity?
Doctor Neha: Your rib cage takes up a lot of space. That’s how big your lungs are. Where do you think the best oxygen exchange occurs?
Grazzia: I don’t know.
Doctor Neha: All the way at the bottom. So if you want to feel rested, be creative, we have to breathe deeper. Do you know what we typically do? We speak and breathe in short bursts. We use a very small amount of breath as we move in the world. We’re so busy; we have all these things going on; and we’re barely breathing. Now go down where your stomach is and feel where your rib ends and there’s a notch in your ribs in the middle. You feel that right around there is an umbrella shaped muscle called the diaphragm. It’s below your lungs and above your stomach. It’s a thin muscle. Unless you take a deep breath, you don’t really ever engage your diaphragm.
If you’re just running around busy, busy, busy bee, using only a small part of your lungs, you don’t inflate the rest of your lungs. So when you take a slow, deep breath—so deep that it fills your lungs and your stomach and your belly button moves outward—the diaphragm has to contract to make room for the air. When it does that, it triggers something called your vagus nerve, which relaxes you. It slows down your heart rate; it calms you. It engages your entire body’s relaxation system, called your parasympathetic nervous system. It’s only triggered when you take slow, deep breaths. So you’ve heard of meditation?
Doctor Neha: And when you’re exercising, you feel this sense of relaxation and feeling good is because your body’s releasing endorphins as you’re taking deep breaths. What you’re doing in that moment is your diaphragm is contracting and stimulating your vagus nerve.
Now there are all sorts of ways you can relax yourself. I could teach you how to meditate. I could teach you exercises to be mindful. And those are important, but you are already breathing. So I’m not asking you to do something you’re not already doing. Do it more mindfully and pay attention to how you’re breathing. In a test. When you feel anxious. When you have to have a conversation to ask your parents for permission to do something and you’re nervous. When you get upset and you’re feeling irritated, the first place to go is your own internal relaxation system. Let your biology help you not hurt you.
The rhythm of your body gives you so much important information that will save you from so many problems that people struggle with—if you tune in to listen. And I’m not saying don’t listen to other people. I’m just saying to make sure to listen to yourself.
Doctor Neha: I’m going really simple first. There are many other tools we can learn. We can do more video blogs. I’ll teach you other tools. For now, I want you to start with the awareness that you have about where your focus is. Is it predominantly out or in? How that’s driving you to drive through your own body? Because if you do that, you become a bully to yourself.
Doctor Neha: Your body’s trying to give you information. And if you’re not listening, all of a sudden, you’ll be wondering why you’re not feeling well. Your body has these amazing mechanisms in place to give you feedback. All right, girl, give me some takeaways.
Grazzia: So while I’m waiting for something, when I have a little bit of time during car rides, I’m going to breathe and make sure that I breathe deeply enough that my belly button comes out. And then when I exhale, make sure my belly button comes in. And I need to do that a couple of times.
Doctor Neha: Do it anytime that you’d like to feel better. You’ve got something you’re already doing that you could just put awareness to. Inhale—abdomen out. Exhale—bellybutton toward your spine. The reason I say that is a lot of people do the opposite. They breathe in and pulled in their stomach and then they exhale shortly letting everything out and that induces anxiety. This will also help you when you’re stressed on a test and you can’t think or you’re not thinking clearly. This will also help you when somebody says something that’s upsetting to you. You can advance to using it then. Because the first thing you want to do before you get upset or yell at someone and have to apologize is self-manage first.
Doctor Neha: This is going to go farther than when you’re waiting in line or waiting for someone or in a car. It’s going to be the pause button. You have a pause button on your phone for music and for videos.
Doctor Neha: You have a human pause button too. And you need to know how to use that. From there I can teach you how to communicate better and manage situations differently. All sorts of things.
Doctor Neha: All right, well thanks for doing a video blog and showing us all how to use the human pause button. Thanks, Grazzia.
Grazzia: Any time.
Doctor Neha: Take care. Bye. [Click here for a link to a video demonstrating soft-belly breathing to reduce stress.]