• Cécile Hemery

How to train yourself to be in the present moment during stressful situations

Updated: May 27

Stress is a chemical reaction in the brain that triggers the fight / flight / freeze response. Stress in itself is not a bad thing, it has a useful purpose for our body and it gives us information ("hey, watch you for the danger here! I need you to focus on it and pay attention!"). However in our modern world, the intensity of the reaction can easily outsize the perceived danger. More importantly, it is the intensity and the length of the period of time during which one is exposed to stress that can turn a perfectly normal stress reaction into a burn-out.

From a chemical perspective, it is the same gland that is producing Cortisol (the "stress" hormone) and DHEA (the vitality hormone), and it's either producing one or the other. Cortisol drains the body while DHEA regenerates it. When one has been under stress for too long, the body does not have enough resources to sustain itself, doesn't get a chance to regenerate itself and things start to break down. That is when we lose our ability to choose how we want to react to situations, we get overwhelmed and put ourselves at risk of getting stuck in a vicious cycle of stress and burn-out. Resilience is our ability to manage these stress reactions. "Heart coherence", a concept developed Heartmath, is an optimal state in which the heart, the mind and our emotions are operating in sync and in balance with each other. This can be measured through Heart Rate Variability (basically looking at your heart rhythm patterns). There is a lot of research from multiple sources showing there is a correlation between achieving coherence and the practice of slow breathing, connection to the heart and bringing up a positive emotion (such as care, compassion and gratitude). This evidence shows that regular practice of heart-focused meditation, allows individuals to become more self-aware of their own stress reaction, and by bringing this awareness and simple slow breathing, they can reduce the stress reaction and change how they react to a stressful situation. Choosing how we want to react to a situation is an ability we all have within us to self-regulate: it is easy and it is free. Why regular practice matter? Because it is just like sport: you don't run a marathon without preparation. You run regularly. You don't run a whole marathon each time you practice, you just run a portion of it, and it is giving you the endurance you need to run the whole thing. Coherence works the same way, you have to train your mind and your heart to get into coherence regularly, so that when you need it, you know what to do and it is easy to access.

It is recommended to practice heart coherence every day, you can start with as little as 3 min per day.

Here are the 3 steps to follow:

1 - Focus your attention to your heart,

2 - Slightly slow down your breathing (5 seconds for each inhale and exhale, for example),

3 - Imagine that you are breathing from the heart.


You can use the video below to guide yourself, with your eyes closed or opened.

​Give it a try and enjoy the practice!