‘Tis The Season for Some Rhyme and Reason!

T’was the night before Spire, when all through the cities,
Tense elves went haywire, forming gift-giving committees.
The stockings were hung at the gyms with great flair,
In the hopes that working out would fix their health care.
Folks were nestled all snug in their costly fitness centers,
As a sleigh flew skyward, filled with great Spire inventors.

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How to Balance Work and Health

From Monday through Friday, 9-to-6, I’m a web developer, hunched over a laptop, coding away, shipping features, and fixing bugs. In the evenings, I teach yoga, guiding students through power vinyasa flows, linking breath to movement.

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Tips to Stay Sane This Thanksgiving

Can you believe that the holidays are already here again? For many of us this is the busiest time of year. Even though we take time off to be with family we always fill it up very quickly by traveling and eating tons of food. It’s this time of year in particular that we need to be able to tap into our zen no matter what! Re-connecting to gratitude and mindfulness during Thanksgiving weekend will help you return to work feeling happy, health and re-charged versus depleted, check out these tips to get you through the whole weekend and still feel positive and healthy. 

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Spire Inspires a Workout!

Summer is finally over so I bet some of you may be contemplating joining a gym. I realize that’s a bit backwards, but if you’re anything like me, you enjoy working out far more when the pressure has been removed to obtain killer abs for men and for women, a thigh gap and a bikini bridge. We actually should only discuss gaps and bridges when we’re in a dental chair so please never strive to achieve an unhealthy shape for your body.

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Here’s Why You Should Never Google a Headache . . .

Since the invention of the Internet, people who tend to worry about their health (notice I’m not using the word “hypochondriac.” Yet.) have a virtual Pandora’s box in their hands. One thing leads to another and soon we’re planning our funerals. Speaking from experience, I will just say that Web MD hasn’t exactly been a helpful tool for me.

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Meditation vs Medication: Everything You Need to Know

If you call your family physician to complain of an ailment, it’s not likely he or she will advise you to take deep cleansing breaths and settle into some mindful meditation. This kind of “prescription” may sound too vague and elusive to most people who prefer (or are accustomed to) instantly popping a pill for their headache, stomach pain or even anxiety and depression.

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How does your breathing change when you feel tense?

This post is third in a series that explains how changes in your state of mind influence your breathing, which underlies how Spire’s algorithms work. The first post was about Calm, the second was about Focus, and this one is about Tension.

Stress. It’s got such a bad rep! But where would we be without it? Bored and unaccomplished, to say the least.

We love a good adrenaline rush and succeeding under pressure (video games, anyone?) yet we hate chronic anxiousness and worry and certainly don’t like to feel like we don’t have control over our lives. We want to have the drive without the stress. We want it all, don’t we?!

The good news is that managing – and harnessing – stress is a skill we can practice and improve at. This skill is called ‘resilience’ and it’s a very hot topic these days. An important part of improving your resilience is being more aware of when you’re feeling stress: what’s caused it and what your reaction is.

Ask yourself: How aware are you? How sensitive is your stress barometer? Can you nip stress in the bud before it starts to make your body and mind rigid? Can you stay flexible when you feel threatened? Can you see challenges as just that – challenges to overcome? Like most people, you probably get distracted by your work, relationships, or general worry. And you are probably open to improving this by using whatever helps. Well, it turns out that awareness of your own breathing can really help.

Much is known about the therapeutic effects of ‘taking a deep breath’ – but there is another powerful use of breathing when it comes to stress: using it as an ‘stress barometer’ that won’t lie to you.

Scientific studies have shown that changes in respiration patterns alone can predict social, cognitive, and physical stress [2]. Because stress isn’t a binary state but rather a fluctuating process across emotional valence and intensity, the specific changes in respiration pattern can vary. But there are common indicators. For example, you may not realize it, but your breathing rate may increase under stress or anxiety [3]. Check your abdominal muscles – are they unnecessarily tight, disallowing your breath from flowing into your lower lungs? Or is multi-tasking under anxiousness making your breathing more volatile and erratic, a sign of stress rather than focus [4]?

Of course, stress happens. But when it happens so often that restful, diaphragmatic breathing becomes a rarity, it can theoretically lead to chronic ‘overbreathing’, expending unnecessarily high levels of carbon dioxide and thereby triggering the amygdala’s carbon dioxide sensor [5]. The triggering of the amygdala (in the old, reptilian part of the brain) can subconsciously prompt one to take even deeper breaths, exacerbating the problem while the appropriate response is actually to slow respiration down and increase the duration of the exhalation.

Though a great deal of research on respiration has been done, we are still learning more of the science behind this very fundamental behavior of life. Why? Because quantitatively sensing respiration has been very difficult until the advent of trackers like Spire. The explosion of these trackers and other sensors will provide a great deal of insight into respiration.

Spire currently tracks ‘anxious’ form of stress (increased respiratory rate at rest) and is in the process of adding the ‘frustrated’ form of stress “characterized as rapid, low tidal-volume predominantly thoracic ventilation” [1]. This latter type of stress is currently being added to the Spire Tense algorithm.

At Spire, we use the word ‘Tense’ rather than ‘Stress’ for 2 reasons:

  1. ‘Stress’ has a lot of negative baggage that comes along with it, although stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing!
  2. ‘Tense’ feels a bit more neutral than ‘Stress’ – i.e., you can acknowledge you’re feeling tense and be ok with it (rather than denying or judging it).

In summary, stress causes changes in your mind and body and this is reflected in your breathing pattern. By being more aware of how your breathing changes throughout the day, you can learn what stresses you, what engages you, when normal stress turns into worry and anxiety, and what you can do about it. The patterns of inhale, pause, and exhale are not random and instead, are quite meaningful. Greater fluency with your own breath can deliver health and work benefits you can feel today.

 

References

  1. Grossman, P. (1983). Respiration, Stress, and Cardiovascular Function. Psychophysiology. Vol. 20, No. 3.
  2. Plarre, K., Raij, A., Hossain, M., Ali, A., Nakajima, M., al’Absi, M., Ertin, E., Kamarck, T., Kumar, S., Scott, M., Siewiorek, D., Smailagic, A., & Wittmers, L. (2011). Continuous Inference of Psychological Stress from Sensory Measurements Collected in the Natural Environment. IPSN 2011, Chicago, IL.
  3. Van diest, I., Bradley, M. M., Guerra, P. Van den Bergh, O. & Lang, P. J.(2009). Fear conditioned respiration and its association with cardiac reactivity. Biological Psychology, 80, 212-217.
  4. Vlemincx, E., van Diest, I., van den Bergh, O. (2012). A sigh following sustained attention and mental stress: Effects on respiratory variability. Physiology & Behavior, 107, Issue 1, pp. 1–6.
  5. Ziemann AE, Allen JE, Dahdaleh NS, Drebot II, Coryell MW, Wunsch AM, Lynch CM, Faraci FM, Howard MA, Welsh MJ, Wemmie JA. (2009). The amygdala is a chemosensor that detects carbon dioxide and acidosis to elicit fear behavior. Cell. Nov 25;139(5):1012-21.