Stick with me here. When signals from injury or previous injury are interpreted by our brain and our nervous system as painful enough, the Sympathetic branch of the nervous system (the fight or flight response) kicks in. It is an evolutionary response that is meant to be protective. It leads to physiological changes: muscle tension, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, shallow and rapid breathing, sweating, dry mouth, slowed immune response, inhibited digestion. All this to give us the strength to either fight or run away. It is a stress response.
This response could save our life in moments of real and imminent danger. But we want to stay out of this branch of the Autonomic Nervous System during the times we don't need it, which for many of us makes up the majority of our time. We don't want to 'hang out' here. The question you should be asking at this point is: but how can I help it, since it's not under my conscious control?
GREAT QUESTION! Enter the Somatic Nervous System. The Somatic Nervous System is within our conscious control. It makes possible our body movements as well as how (not whether) we breathe. That means that through the conscious manipulation of breath we can cue into the Parasympathetic branch of the Autonomic Nervous System and induce a relaxation response. Deep, diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the Parasympathetic nerves, which has a calming effect on the entire body. This is where we want to 'hang out'. Shallow, chest breathing cues us right into the Sympathetic system - a tensing, fight or flight type breathing.
1. Ask yourself "how do I breathe?"
2. Is the way that you breathe cueing you into the Sympathetic (fight/flight, tension, stress) system or the Parasympathetic (relaxing, calming) system?