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  • Writer's pictureLiz Tracy

Mental Fitness Parachutes

How do you intentionally manage your stress? Activate your parasympathetic response system!

Your parasympathetic response (PNS) is your body’s way of returning to rest or calm. Learn more in my last post. Think of it like this: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) works to stimulate fight, flight, freeze, or fawn—ways to keep us alive when in danger. The parasympathetic response system is our parachute out of danger: this system regulates our emotions in stressful situations.

Fortunately, there are ways we can activate our parachutes:

Practice deep-breathing (engage vagal tone). Your vagal tone is a measurement of your heart rate variability when practicing slow, deep breathing. A stronger vagal tone leads to better blood sugar regulation, heart health, and digestion; a reduction in migraines; and greater emotional stability and resilience. Lower vagal tone is associated with mood instability, depression, PTSD, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, cognitive impairment, and inflammation. Fortunately, deep, slow breathing can increase your vagal tone and trigger parasympathetic response.

  • To determine your vagal tone, find your pulse. Notice any change as you slowly breathe in and out. If it increases as you breathe in and decreases as you breathe out, you have a stronger vagal tone.

  • To strengthen your vagal tone, practice slow, deep-breathing.

Soften the eyes/gaze (use peripheral vision). Softening the gaze, or focus, relaxes nerves in and around the eyes. This often occurs naturally when you are lost in thought or daydream. Conversely, when your SNS has been triggered you may experience tunnel vision. When we use peripheral vision, we signal the brain and trigger the PNS.

  • To soften your gaze, squeeze and relax your eyes.

  • Expand your vision to the sides: notice what is at the outer edges of your vision.

Do a PQ rep! What’s a PQ rep? It stands for Positive Intelligence rep and it's a mental muscle builder. Just like a rep with a dumbbell builds your bicep. A PQ rep is a 10-second reminder to engage your body to help calm you and access your best self.

  • One of my favorite PQ rep is to rub two fingers together so you can feel the fingertip ridges.

  • This subtle motion is easy to do anywhere, and it reminds me to reframe negative emotions into an opportunity.

Actually, all of these parachutes are PQ reps and they are part of the Positive Intelligence program I use with clients. You can engage all of the senses!

My clients and I use the PQ programs to build habits to calm the nervous system and engage the positive side of the brain. The 10-second PQ rep is easy to do anywhere and builds a practice you can repeat when you need it.

What do you think? How do you intentionally activate your parasympathetic response system?

Let me know if you find other techniques helpful, or if you’d like more information about Positive Intelligence. I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me at and on LinkedIn.

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