Envelope #29: Let’s talk about “stress”

Happy Thursday! This is Back of the Envelope, where I share interesting structural engineering-related things I learned recently.

Today I am going to talk about “stress.”
(Estimated reading time = 3 minutes and 6 seconds)’

“Force over area”?

“Moment over section modulus?”

No no… not that kind of stress.

I am talking about the one you get when the contractor sends you 10+ RFIs and a shop drawing submittal, all on the same day, and asks you if you could return them by today or tomorrow.

On top of that, you have two other deadlines that week, plus an inbox full of unanswered emails because you’ve been on job sites and meetings all day…

That’s the kind of stress I’ll be talking about today.
(I am even getting stressed just by typing the scenario!)

Unfortunately, I can’t help you get rid of the RFIs…

But I did come across a technique that will instantly lower your stress level, kill the anxiety, and calm your nerves (based on research and my own experience), so you have the strength and mental clarity to tackle the challenges.

And the technique takes less than a minute to perform.

Sounds too good to be true?

That’s what I thought too, but it actually worked when I tried it.

You ready?

Introducing: the “physiological sigh”

The physiological sigh is a pattern of breathing discovered by physiologists in the 1930s. It was rediscovered recently by Professor Jack Feldman at UCLA (world expert in the neurobiology of respiration) and Mark Krasnow at Stanford (biochemistry expert who studies lung function).

Kids and adults do this naturally when they lose their breath from crying. We also do this in our sleep when the carbon dioxide in our bloodstream gets too high.

And scientists realized that we don’t have to wait for our body to do this naturally – we can control our breathing and perform a physiological sigh at anytime.

Professor Andrew Huberman at the Standard School of Medicine (neuroscientist specializing in brain development and neural regeneration) and other researchers studied how this breathing pattern helps with negative emotions (including anxiety) compared with other breathing techniques and mindfulness meditation.

And they found that the physiological sigh (also called cyclic sighing) is the most effective at improving mood and reducing respiratory rate.

Performing the physiological sigh to instantly relieve stress

Here is how you do it:

  1. Inhale with your nose (as you normally would when taking a deep breath).

  2. When your lung is full, without exhaling, try to do another quick inhale with your nose to really “top the lungs off.”

  3. Exhale slowly with your mouth to empty out the lung.

  4. Repeat two to three times.

That’s all!

Here is a video that demonstrates this (watch the breathing example, pause the video, and come back to finish the rest of this email before you get sucked into the rest of YouTube…):

Why does it work?

This is not a biology lesson, but in case you are wondering how it actually works, here is Professor Huberman’s explanation:

“Our lungs are not just two big bags of air. We have all these little millions of sacks of air, that if we were to lay them out flat, they would be as big as about a tennis court or so. The volume of air, therefore, and the volume of carbon dioxide that we can offload is tremendously high, except that we get stressed as carbon dioxide builds up in our bloodstream, and, it’s kind of a double whammy, these little sacks deflate.

Now, when we do a double-inhale… you reinflate those little sacks, and when you exhale, you discard all the carbon oxide at once…

And we found in our laboratory, and other laboratories have found, that just one, two, or three of those physiological sighs brings your level of stress down very, very fast. And it’s a tool that you can use any time.”

Huberman also talks about how slow exhalation helps to slow down your heart rate (which calms you down).

It’s all fascinating physiology stuff – check it out here if you are interested:

And there you have it – hopefully this helps. (I know it helped me!)

Let me know what you think!.

Oh and lastly, a dad riddle for you (one of my kids loved this):

Mary’s mom has 4 children.

1st child’s name is April.

2nd child’s name is May.

3rd child’s name is June.

What’s is the name of the 4th child?
(answer revealed at the bottom of the email)

Yours truly,

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Answer: 4th child’s name is Mary!

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