If you’re alive, you have stress. Stress is a natural physical and mental reaction to good and bad experiences that can be beneficial to your health and safety. However, if this stress response becomes chronic, it can affect your mind and body negatively, resulting in high blood pressure, muscle tension, anxiety, headaches, fatigue, and more.
You probably know by now that your Central Nervous System (CNS) controls whether you are in stress (flight or fight response) or relaxation mode. Did you know your CNS also controls breathing? When stressed, breathing becomes shallow, centralizing in the upper chest. This is not what you want for long periods of time. If you’ve ever watched a baby sleep, you’ve noticed their belly going up and down. It’s because they’re in relaxation mode, which results in abdominal breathing. That’s what you seek.
The good news is you can control your breathing, which means you can reduce your stress. Studies have shown that practicing this style of breathing can reduce muscle tension and anxiety levels within 60 seconds. So let’s give it a try:
- Sit or lie down.
- Place the palm of your hand on your abdomen, between your ribcage and navel.
- Close your eyes and start to focus on your breathing.
- Begin to inhale through your nose (not your mouth), feel the air flow through your nostrils. Breathe in for a slow count of 1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . then exhale to a slow count of 1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . .
When you inhale try to allow your belly to expand NOT your chest. Your chest can expand slightly, but your belly should be moving more than your chest.
Note: This can be hard to do in our culture where we are unconsciously tucking in our belly to look thinner. Fight that instinct and let your belly come out.
- Do not take deep breaths. When you inhale, your fingertips on your abdomen should only slightly part, this will help to reduce the risk of over breathing. 7. Start by practicing for a few minutes per day. It will become easier over time.
- If you feel dizzy, stop the exercise and let your natural breathing rhythm take over; you are probably breathing too deeply and/or too quickly.
So when you feel stressed, stop and do this exercise to calm down to help your body shift into relaxation mode. Follow these steps and you will feel a difference.