Master Stress: Tools For Managing Stress & Anxiety (Episode 10) | Huberman Lab

Key Takeaways

  • Stress is a generic system the body uses to turn on what it needs, turn off what it doesn’t, and stimulate the body or mouth to move to action
  • We can’t control the external world but can – and should – do our best to control how we respond to things
  • “We can’t use the mind to control the mind, we need tools” – Dr. Andrew Huberman
  • The goal of all stress management is to remain calm of mind when the body is activated
  • The physiological sigh is the best real-time tool to calm down: two inhales through the nose followed by an extended exhale through the mouth  
  • Managing medium-term stress (stress lasting days to weeks) is best done by increasing your stress threshold through short, difficult bursts to become more comfortable at higher levels of activation – try sprints, cold shower, bike intervals, etc.
  • Social connections (e.g., significant other, platonic, pet, joy of participating in or watching event) mitigates long-term stress by releasing serotonin and suppressing tachykinin

Introduction

Dr. Andrew Huberman, Ph.D. is a Professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology at Stanford University School of Medicine. His lab focuses on neural regeneration, neuroplasticity, and brain states such as stress, focus, fear, and optimal performance.

In this this episode of Huberman Lab, Dr. Huberman explains what stress is and how our brain uses it in good and bad ways to react. Dr. Huberman reviews the three types of stress, relationship between stress and immune system functions, and tools to manage and prevent long term stress, burnout, and anxiety.

Host: Andrew Huberman (@hubermanlab)

What Is Stress?

  • The heart of stress lies at whether our internal experience and external experience align
  • All species experience stress
  • Stress is a generic system used to mobilize other systems in the brain and body to respond
  • Systems for stress are genetically encoded which means we have the power to control them

Stressors Versus Stress

  • Stressors: psychological (difficulty balancing work and social life) or physical (out in the cold without a jacket) things which stress us out
  • Stress: the psychological and physiological response to stressors
  • The stress system doesn’t distinguish between physiological and psychological stressors
  • The neurons that control stress run from the neck to naval
  • A chain of neurons becomes activated in response to stressor and release acetylcholine (which is otherwise used to move muscles)
  • Neurons release epinephrine which either activates things that need to respond to stressor – and – activates receptors on things we don’t need to calm them
  • Stress response: (1) generic; (2) pushes what we need, turns off what we don’t need; (3) stimulates body to move to action or say something

How To Reduce Or Eliminate Stress

  • The best real-time tools to reduce stress will impact the autonomic nervous system
  • The parasympathetic nervous system has certain levers we can use to push back on the nervous system
  • It’s hard to control the mind, using the mind – if we’re stressed or tired it’s difficult to channel gratitude, peace, other important mind mechanisms
  • By using the body instead of the brain, we’ll be able to free the mind to speak more clearly, control muscles of face and jaw, and generally relax
  • In stress or high alertness, we want to leverage the fact that we can control our diaphragm and breathing
  • When you inhale, diaphragm moves down, and heart gets larger, so blood moves slower
  • This sends a signal to the brain to speed up heart rate
  • To increase heart rate – inhale longer and/or more vigorous than exhale
  • When you exhale, diaphragm moves up, heart gets smaller and more compact, so blood moves more quickly
  • This sends a signal to the brain to slow down heart rate
  • To slow heart rate down – exhale longer and/or more vigorous than inhale
  • Fastest method to calm down in real time: physiological sigh (this is not breath work) – there’s a real relationship between brain, body, diaphragm, and heart
  • Physiological sigh: two inhales through the nose followed by an extended exhale through the mouth  
  • What doesn’t work: telling yourself (or others) to calm down

Nasal Versus Mouth Breathing

  • Nasal breathing is more advantageous than mouth breathing in many cases
  • For physiological sigh, it’s most ideal to inhale through the nose, exhale through mouth – but if that’s not feasible it’s ok through the mouth
  • Books on breathing: Breath by James Nestor

Short-term Stress

  • Acute stress is good for the immune system
  • Signs of short-term stress: dilation of pupils, changes in optics of eyes, increase in heart rate, sharpening of cognition, narrow but sharp focus to respond at the moment
  • Stress often comes in the form of bacterial or viral infection so the body’s response is to release epinephrine/adrenaline to combat infection
  • When adrenaline is released in the body it liberates killer cells from immune organs to combat and suppress incoming infection   
  • Note about Tummo or Wim Hof style breathing: this is basically rapid, deliberate hyperventilation – this will make you feel alert and liberate adrenaline
  • Procrastination is how we turn on short-term stress and cue our body to work
  • If you are no longer able to sleep, you are leaving “good” short-term stress and entering harmful long-term stress

Medium-term Stress

  • Medium-stress lasts anywhere from several days to several weeks
  • A lot of managing stress is about raising capacity
  • The goal of managing stress: be calm of mind when the body is activated
  • Stress threshold: ability to cognitively regulate what is happening in mind and body
  • Method to manage medium-term stress: place yourself deliberately in a situation of stress (sprint, cold shower, fast bike, etc.) and make your mind comfortable with the response   
  • Relax the mind while the body is active so what once felt like a lot, becomes manageable
  • Use body to bring up the level of activation then dissociate the physical response – you will become more comfortable at higher activation states

Long-term Stress

  • Stress has its benefits but long-term stress is bad
  • Chronic stress leads to heart disease because of the way adrenaline impacts blood vessels
  • Things we know to mitigate long-term stress: regular exercise, enough sleep, social connection
  • Social connection mitigates long-term stress by leveraging serotonin which has positive effects on the immune system and connections in the brain
  • Social connection can be to other people, romantic, plutonic, pets – and even just attachment to things we take joy in seeing or participating in
  • The body secretes higher levels of tachykinin when we are not socially connected enough
  • Tachykinin symptoms: increased irritability, paranoia, fear, loneliness

Supplements To Help Manage Stress

  • Not recommended to supplement with melatonin since over the counter doses are much higher than produced in the body
  • Melatonin can suppress puberty response in species and reduce output of adrenals
  • L-theanine for chronic stress: can take 100-200mg before sleep to blunt response to stress and encourage stress management and reduced anxiety
  • Ashwagandha reduces cortisol associated with short- and medium-term stress
  • Ashwagandha also lowers cholesterol and has mild effects in reducing depression
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Notes By Maryann

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