To learn how to calm your stress system, it helps to learn how it gets activated in the first place. Here’s the typical cycle:

Step 1. An event sets you off. It might be a personal comment that someone made, someone close to you getting sick, a situation that evokes strong emotions. Anything. Your hormones kick into action.

Step 2. You respond with physical symptoms. These can include subconsciously holding your breath, stroking your face, rocking, indigestion, headache, sweaty palms, increased hot flashes, increased pain, nausea, dizziness, racing heart rate, constipation, poor concentration, impaired memory or difficulty sleeping.

Step 3. Your physical symptoms trigger emotional symptoms. You may experience negative thinking, increased self-doubt, loss of purpose, worry or even a “screw you” attitude. You may feel like a victim or as if you’ve lost control, or inefficient, edgy, lonely, bored or like you don’t belong. The story connected to the trigger and the feelings engendered by the physical response and your hormonal responses are amplified. This leads to:

Step 4. You turn to behavioral attempts to self-soothe. Many of these self-soothing behaviors are destructive, such as smoking, indulging in fatty/sugary/salty foods, shopping, excessive drinking, drunk shopping, gambling, watching mindless TV or overworking. These changes then reinforce events that set you off again. The cycle continues until you learn to self-soothe or manage the stress in a positive way.

You can break the vicious cycle of stress with a productive response to any kind of stressful event: breathe deeply. Here’s why deep breathing is so important:

  • It helps transport nitric oxide—a very potent lung and blood vessel dilator that resides in your nasal passages—to your lungs. So it makes your lungs and blood vessels function better. Taking deep breaths helps your lungs go from 98 percent saturation of oxygen to 100 percent oxygen saturation.
  • It helps improve the drainage of your lymphatic system, which removes toxins from your body.
  • It helps relieve stress. The deep breaths act as a mini-meditation. Shifting to slower breathing in times of tension can help calm you and allow you to perform at higher levels mentally and physically.
  • Try it: Twice a day, for five minutes, practice deep breathing.


Learn more healthy tips in Dr. Roizen’s new book, This is YOUR Do-Over: The 7 Secrets to Losing Weight, Living Longer, and Getting a Second Chance at the Life You Want.


Author: Michael Roizen, MD

This article originally appeared on the leading online health and wellness social platform.