There seems to be a hack for everything nowadays, but I want to talk to you about something a bit different from tips on how best to store your power cables!
Biohacking is essentially the practice of changing our chemistry and our physiology through science and self-experimentation to energise and enhance the body. If that sounds a bit overwhelming, consider it as implementing lifestyle and dietary changes that improve the functioning of your body, as well as wearable technology to help you monitor and regulate physiological data.
The most important place to start is with self-awareness. Without recognition of not just how you’re experiencing stress but why, it’s futile to try and undo the impact it is having. To do the work, you need to fully understand the problem.
The key to developing this awareness is building self-observation into your daily routine – as the habit becomes more ingrained it will become more natural and you will develop a keener understanding of yourself.
It’s important to pay attention to both your physical and your mental states; as I’ve previously explained, they are inextricably linked. While sitting at your desk, turn your thoughts to yourself and ask the following questions:
- How do I feel in my body right now?
- Do I have any areas of tension?
- How is my breathing? Slow? Fast? Shallow?
- What thoughts are coming up right now?
- Where did these thoughts come from?
- How are these thoughts making me feel?
- How long do they last?
As you check in with yourself, try and maintain a state of curiosity rather than judgement. Whatever your responses, merely observe and acknowledge them – the aim of this exercise is not to turn a critical eye to what you are experiencing but just build your awareness of it.
As your self-awareness increases over time, you will also enhance your resilience and your ability to reframe your responses to your stressors.
Your breathing can have a huge impact, both physical and emotional, depending on how you engage it. It’s time to tune in and harness the power of this force. Taking a single mindful, slow breath can lower your blood pressure, slow your heart rate and stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, putting your body into rest and digest mode.⠀⠀
There are many breathing techniques you can try and they can be done anywhere. Wherever you’re sitting right now, try this ‘box breathing’ exercise and see how it makes you feel:⠀⠀
- Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose for 4 seconds
- Hold your breath for 4 seconds
- Release your breath in a slow exhale through your mouth for 4 seconds
- Hold your breath for 4 seconds
With an intentional approach, you can consciously use your breath to either create more energy or calm yourself down, hacking your own system.
Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
HRV is a measure of the variation in time between your heartbeats. Your heart rate increases on inhalation and decreases on exhalation and the greater the variability between the two, the better.
HRV is linked to your autonomic nervous system (ANS) and the balance between the parasympathetic (rest and digest) and sympathetic (fight or flight) responses. In maintaining the balance between the two, the ANS helps you respond to daily stressors and regulate some of your body’s most important systems, including heart rate, respiration and digestion.
When you are faced with stress or negative emotions, the rhythm of your heart becomes irregular and you experience lowered HRV. The 40,000 neurons and network of neurotransmitters within your heart then send signals to your brain, activating the fight/flight mode or sympathetic nervous system. This inhibits your pre-frontal cortex and lowers problem-solving and decision-making abilities as well as having a physiological impact throughout your body.
When you are not experiencing stress or negative emotion, you will establish a heart rate coherence which results in a balancing of your parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems; you enter rest and digest mode and regain full use of your pre-frontal cortex.
By tracking your HRV and paying attention to the biofeedback you receive, you can become aware of the factors which are influencing your body and take preventative steps to reduce their impact. Wearing a tracker can give you hard data around what happens to your body as a result of your lifestyle and environment. This opens up biohacking possibilities across all areas of your life – sleep, nutrition, exercise, emotional relationships – as you make changes to improve your resilience and reduce the effects of stress.