Stress Relief is Only a Few Breaths Away
Did you ever feel upset or stressed and have someone tell you, “Take a deep breath and relax.” Did you try it?
Many relaxation practices use breathing techniques to promote a state of calm. Deep breathing can decrease the effect of stress on your mind and body. It also can slow your heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure. We can't avoid all the sources of stress in our lives, nor would we want to. But, we can develop healthier ways of responding to them.
During moments of stress, your thoughts may be drawn toward past regrets and worries about the future. Thankfully, you possess a readily accessible and free tool that can be used to manage stress right under your nose— your breath. Breathing can be your anchor to stay in the present moment -–in the here and now. Although breathing is something your body does naturally, it's also a skill that can be enhanced.
There are two basic types of breathing:
- Chest breathing which uses secondary muscles in your upper chest. Chest breathing is helpful in situations of great exertion, such as a sprint. During stressful situations, you may inadvertently resort to chest breathing. This can lead to tight shoulder and neck muscles and even headaches. Chronic stress can increase these symptoms. Chest breathing can make you feel short of breath and anxious.
- Diaphragmatic breathing (Belly breathing) which comes from the body's dominant breathing muscle — the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a dome-like muscle between the chest and the abdomen. This type of breathing is effective and a great way to reduce stress and tension.
Diaphragmatic breathing Tips
- This type of breathing can be practiced in any position, but it is easiest to learn while lying down. Lie on your back on a flat surface or in bed, with your knees bent and your head supported.
- Loosen any tight clothing.
- Relax your shoulder and neck muscles. If you wish, close your eyes.
Pursed lip breathing will help you develop diaphragmatic breathing.
Place one hand on your upper chest and your other hand below your rib cage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe.
- Breathe in through your nose (as if you are smelling a rose) for about 2 seconds.
- Purse your lips like you’re getting ready to whistle or gently blow out candles on a birthday cake.
- Breathe out very slowly through pursed lips, while slowly counting to four.
- Repeat four times.
- As you breathe in your belly should move outward against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.
- As you breathe out slowly through pursed lips, gently tighten your belly muscles. This will push up on your diaphragm to help get your air out.
- Notice how you feel after doing a few pursed lip breathing breaths?
Now breathe in and out through the nose. Find a breathing rate that is comfortable for you.
- For example, you could slowly breathe in for four counts and out for four counts.
- Or, consider adding a short silent phrase to the breathing: “I am” on the inhalation and “relaxed” on the exhalation.
Caution: Some people get dizzy the first few times they try deep breathing. If you become lightheaded, slow your breathing or temporarily discontinue the breathing exercise and try again at another time.
How often should I practice this exercise?
Practice belly breathing about 5-10 minutes per day.
This type of daily practice makes it easier to use the breathing technique when stressful situations arise.
You can use this breathing any time, but especially when you are upset, anxious, have difficulty sleeping, or are experiencing pain. Try it now!
We would love to hear how these breathing techniques helped you.