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Bulletproof Immunity: Stress

This lesson is a part of an audio course Bulletproof Immunity by Matias Pihlquist

When we talk about stress in a negative sense, we usually mean chronic stress, or strain, where we spend extended periods of time in fight or flight mode. And that's obviously not very healthy.

So what we need to do is find ways to cope with this, find ways to lower our stress bucket before it gets full, before it gets overflowing cause then we have depression, burnout, and disease. So we need to find ways to lower the stress bucket before it gets too high. The higher it gets, the lower the margin we have to deal with external stressors. Whether that is more stress at work or some pathogen or hostile microbe that we get exposed to. So if we find ways to lower the stress bucket continously, as it gets fuller during our day, we find ways to lower it again, then we'll keep the baseline low and the margin for what we can deal with much higher.

So how do we actually deal with stress? First, I will give you a technique that you can use throughout your day whenever you feel agitated or stressed, or angry. So whenever one of those unwanted feelings show up that make you more stressed or frustrated, try to catch yourself, first off, catch yourself in the moment – oh, I'm feeling angry, stressed, frustrated, whatever it is. Name the feeling and say it out loud. Like, "I'm SO angry right now! I'm SO frustrated."

Just say it out loud, and then don't feed that story, don't give it more energy.

If you stop feeding that story, your body will stop generating the chemicals that produce the emotions you're feeling. So the only thing that keeps the emotion going is you feeding the story of why you're right, why everyone else is wrong, why this always happens, justifying your anger, and so on. Once you stop, your body will not produce those chemicals, and you won't feel that feeling anymore. It will go away in a minute or two.

Try that out. It can really help to lower your day-to-day stress.

Another thing I wanna mention is coffee. Coffee raises your cortisol – your stress hormone – which can be really bad for your immune response, depending on your caffeine tolerance. In one study looking at this, people drinking coffee had their immune response lowered by 1/3. If you have a lot of stress in your life, if you have a lot going on at work or a stressful situation at home, you might wanna look at how much coffee you're drinking and limit your caffeine intake, at least until the situation improves. If you're interested in more details, if you wanna learn more about how coffee affects your body. I can recommend Michael Pollan's book "Caffeine" he looks at it from a very objective point of view covering the pros and cons of coffee drinking in general.

Including his own journey of quitting coffee for 3 months and everything that led to it. Very interesting read, so I can recommend that.

Then we have things like meditation, yoga, chi gong, and breathwork, which all are effective at lowering stress levels. Breathing and breathwork, in my experience, is the most effective way to influence our nervous system, quickly lower stress levels, boost energy, and build health for a very low time investment. I want to really drive home the impact of breathing on your overall health. First off, advice like deep belly breathing are oversimplifications that can be counterproductive. Instead, ideal breathing is absolutely silent. It is so delicate it does not even cause the hairs in your nose to move.

And we have a nose for a reason. Use it! Today a lot of people are breathing through the mouth all the time, which triggers the sympathetic nervous system, our fight, or flight response. Nose breathing, on the other hand, tends to be slower and deeper, triggering the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest), and that relaxes our body and mind and lowers our heart rate.

Your nose is an important part of the respiratory system. Nose hairs and mucus in the nose filter airborne particles like dust, pollen, spores, viruses, and bacteria and keep them from entering your lungs. The nose is your first defense against unwanted microbes and pathogenes – but only when you breathe through it.

Nose breathing also creates nitric oxide, which improves blood circulation, energy levels, physical performance, brain function, and the immune system.

I was a mouth breather for decades, but re-training yourself to breathe through your nose is not that hard even if you have blocked or narrow nasal passages like I've had my whole life. After a couple of weeks, breathing through your nose becomes second nature, and your tongue will naturally rest on the ceiling of your mouth. If you revert back to mouth breathing in your sleep, try taping your mouth. This has a big impact on how refreshed and energized you wake up. Again, youtube is your friend if you want detailed instructions and exercises to help make the transition easier.

Reflection: rate your ratio of nose vs mouth breathing from 1-10 where 1 is never through the nose, only the mouth, and 10 is the opposite. What can you do to lift this at least 2 points this week?

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Written by

Matias Pihlquist