What is Stress?

Stress occurs whenever we have to adapt to change. Small amounts of stress are good for us; through adapting successfully to stressful situations, we become stronger and more competent. Excess stress - stress that is beyond our ability to master - can lead us into a cycle of negative emotions such as worry, fear and anxiety. When this continues without relief, it can become a whirlwind of frustration, anger, exhaustion, self-loathing and depression.

A major component of the stress-response system is the autonomic nervous system, which orchestrates the involuntary functions of the body: cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, hormonal, glandular and immune systems. An intricate network carries messages from the brain to the body in order to regulate these functions. At the same time, messages from the body ascend to inform the brain of the moment-to-moment state of every part of the body. If there is anything amiss with our breathing, the brain needs to know quickly to take action immediately. Respiratory messages have top priority when it comes to getting the brain’s attention.

Of all the autonomic functions of the body, only one can be controlled voluntarily - breathing. By voluntarily changing the rate, depth and pattern of breathing, we can change the messages being sent from the body to the brain. Messages from the respiratory system have rapid, powerful effects on brain centers involved in thought, emotion and behavior.

How often do we have to adapt to change? Every day, we have to digest a certain amount of stress. Breathing can alleviate negative feelings such as fear, anxiety, depression, self-blame and physical discomforts. Breath practices nurture positive emotions, loving feelings, compassion, our sense of connection with what is meaningful in life, and our sense of bonding with others.

There are infinite ways to use the breath to enrich every moment of your life.

Adapted from: The Healing Power of the Breath
Richard P. Brown, MD, Patricia L. Gerbarg, MD
Shambhala 2012

Click here to learn more

Pam Atherton Interviews Dr. Patricia Gerbarg on A Closer Look

In this hour-long interview, Pam Atherton and Dr. Patricia Gerbarg discuss a number of health-related topics, including:

  • Dr. Gerbarg’s background and how she became interested in Complementary Alternative Medicine
  • How Dr. Gerbarg learned non-traditional ways to handle stress
  • Rhodiola Revolution
  • What is considered complementary?
  • Stress is a global problem
  • Why stress depletes energy
  • How yoga breathing balances the stress-response system
  • Melatonin as a sleep aid
  • How to promote better and more restful sleep
  • Why we should exercise
  • Role of vitamins and minerals in maintaining energy, reducing risk of dementia, improving depression & effect of antidepressant medication, as well as having a healthy brain
  • Fibromyalgia - exhausted stress response system as a possible mechanism behind it
  • Chronic Fatigue is an energy problem, and how Rhodiola rosea may help
  • How Rhodiola rosea increases energy production at the cellular level
  • The difficulty in diagnosing ADD
  • The wide spectrum of bipolar disorder and how complementary treatment may help


How to Use Herbs, Nutrients & Yoga in Mental Health
Richard P. Brown, MD, Patricia L. Gerbarg, MD. Philip R. Muskin, MD
W.W. Norton & Company 2009

The Rhodiola Revolution
Richard P. Brown and Patricia L. Gerbarg, MD
Rodale 2004

Stress Impacts All Aspects of Life

Dr. Gerbarg explains how stress affects every aspect of our lives, including energy levels. She offers a number of easy solutions.