When I was a student at Bastyr, I had the privilege of taking counseling classes with Dr. Brad Lichtenstein. We started most (okay, every) class with a meditative exercise. I’ll be the first to admit that my initial reaction to the exercise was “this is why people think NDs are strange.”
But then something happened.
I started to enjoy the meditative processes he was teaching us. And I found myself sharing the techniques with others (including patients I was seeing as a student clinician). Dr. Brad had a way of speaking and presenting that was entertaining while still getting the point across.
Dr. Brad crossed my path again when I saw the video above posted on Facebook; it’s a news segment from Q13 in Seattle and talks about how traffic affects your stress levels. It seemed so appropriate, given how awful my commute has been lately. He goes through the effects of traffic stress on your physiology by using a biofeedback machine and the results will really make you rethink how you react to other drivers.
Dr. Brad breaks down exactly how a stressful commute can impact your health. When you aren’t breathing through a stressful event, you can cause your heart rate and blood pressure to spike. The result is sustained throughout the day which can impact how you approach other stressful situations throughout the day.
I have a notoriously long and annoying commute on I-4 and I think my blood pressure and heart rate probably spike 30+ times per day. I will be the first to admit that if affects how I feel when I walk in the door each evening (and I’m sure Matt will second that).
More importantly, Dr. Brad points out that chronic stress affects how well your immune system function. Your resting heart rate is an independent predictor of mortality, even in an healthy person. Breathing through a stressful situation not only leads to lower blood pressure, but also a more balanced nervous system.
Next time you’re such in traffic, try engaging in some box breathing:
Your goal should be 6 breaths per minute. If you have a minute, set your stopwatch and give it a try. It’ll give you a feel for that pattern of breathing and probably make you realize how often you’re holding your breath rather than breathing.
Your turn: Do you have a long commute? Are you an easy going driver or the person shaking their fist at others? Have you ever tried biofeedback?