Stress has become the bane of today’s fast-paced life. With demanding careers, rising responsibilities and fragile relationships, it’s natural for people to struggle to cope with the demands every once in a while. When a person encounters such stressors repeatedly, they are said to be experiencing “chronic stress”.
Chronic stress and its impact on the human body
The human body is regulated by the autonomic nervous system; a division of the peripheral nervous system. The autonomic nervous system consists of two branches, viz., the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The SNS regulates the body’s response to external and internal stressors whereas the PNS helps bring the body back to its optimum functioning.
When we are bombarded by stressful situations in life, the function of the PNS primarily suffers. This hinders our body’s ability to function optimally and makes it difficult for it to recover from the harmful impact of facing continual stressors.
Stress relief products that exercise the PNS
Stress relievers that bank upon the utilization of paced breathing and its beneficial effects on one’s health have caught up in popularity now-a-days. These stress relief products or biofeedback devices offer auditory and/or visual pacers to guide users to breathe at a certain rate and the device reflects corresponding changes in the heart rate of a person.
Let us try to understand why such a stress relief product proves effective in improving one’s health.
Just like a muscle strengthens with regular physical exercise, the PNS improves in function and effectiveness if it is exercised regularly. But the autonomic nervous system is an involuntary system that cannot be controlled. How then can we exercise the PNS, which is a part of the ANS?
There is a key element of the PNS that can be positively affected through controlled breathing. This element is the baroreflex mechanism. The baroreflex mechanism regulates heart rate depending on the level of blood pressure in central blood vessels, such as the aorta. It does so through special sensory cells in the aorta wall called baroreceptors that sense the level of blood pressure in the aorta and relay the message through afferent nerve fibers to the PNS.
On breathing in, lung volume increases and blood pressure in the aorta decreases. The baroreceptors sense this drop in blood pressure and cause suppression of the effect of PNS on heart rate, causing the heart rate to increase and maintain the optimum level of blood pressure in the body.
On breathing out, lung volume decreases and blood pressure in the aorta increases. The baroreceptors sense this increase in blood pressure and cause stimulation of the effect of PNS on heart rate, causing it to decrease.
The baroreflex mechanism is exceptionally responsive to periodic stimulation at a rate of six breaths per minute or 0.1 Hz; the ‘resonant frequency’ at which the oscillations of heart rate are maximum in an individual.
The best stress relievers are built upon scientifically established methods and backed by clinical studies. Stress relief products that help establish a biofeedback loop that aids paced breathing and registers real-time changes in the heart rate are especially useful for alleviating the effects of chronic stress on the human body and improving overall health.