Breathing Exercises For Stress
Breathing is one of the best coping mechanisms you can use to control stress.
It can be done instantly, in the moment you feel your stress levels rising to uncomfortable levels. There’s no equipment needed and its something anyone can do successfully. And of course, it’s free.
Breathing And Stress
Breathing is not something we give much thought to, even though it’s essential to our very survival in this world.
It’s just something we do subconsciously.
According to thebreatheffect.com:
- The average person breathes in the equivalent of 13 pints of air every minute and takes 17,000 breaths per day.
- “Breathing Air” is actually not a good description of what happens when we breathe. Air is made up of almost 79% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and small amounts of elements like helium, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen.
- Inhaled air is made up of 16% oxygen, 4% carbon dioxide, and the same 79% nitrogen. Our lungs swap around 4-5% oxygen for carbon dioxide.
- Our lungs exhale almost half a litre (0.42 L) of water every single day. Factor this number into your hydration requirements.
- Most people can hold their breath for a maximum of 1-2 minutes but in 2010 Stig Severinsen from Denmark held his breath during a free dive for 22 minutes. That’s the power of controlled breathing.
- The lungs are the biggest waste removal engine in the body, accounting for the removal of 70% of body waste in the form of carbon dioxide in the air we exhale.
- Psychologists have found that breathing practice is effective in fighting anxiety, depression, and stress. Physiological evidence has indicated that even a single breathing practice significantly reduces blood pressure.
- Mouth breathing can actually change your face. Researchers found differences in the facial developments of children that breath through their mouths compared to children that nose breathe.
- Your emotions change the way you breathe. Research has shown that our breathing pattern can influence the emotion we experience.
- But mindful breathing and learning how to control your breath is a powerful way of coping with stress. It’s also beneficial to your overall health in many other ways.
Imagine this… You are hard at work on that report your boss wanted, and you find out he wants it on his desk today instead of next week. You are not even close to finished so you feel pressured and rushed to complete it as soon as possible, or risk making your boss angry. Your mind starts racing as you worry about how you’re going to complete this report today with the deadline looming.
Your anxiety rises and you feel your stress levels rising each and every second. This causes uncomfortable physical symptoms:
- You start to sweat
- Your heart starts racing
- Your throat begins to feel dry
- Your hands turn cold and clammy
- Your stomach begins turning and your breathing increases
- Your sympathetic nervous system is now in charge and it triggers your “fight or flight” mechanism
You know that arguing with your boss isn’t a good idea. And running away from the problem makes no sense either.
Instead, what you know you should do is focus on completing the report as fast as possible. But with everything going on in your body and mind in the present moment, that seems impossible.
So what should you do? You should focus on your breathing.
It may sound silly, but deliberately slowing down your breathing by taking deep breaths instead of shallow ones sends powerful signals to your brain that everything is in fact OK.
You don’t need to fight and you don’t need to run away. You can cope.
Meditation Breathing Techniques
One very effective form of natural stress relief is using meditation.
Mediation techniques involve the use of specific breathing methods that help calm the mind and create an overall sense of peace and relaxation.
Not religious? That’s OK, because meditation doesn’t need to have a religious connection. Meditation is simply a tool that you can use to get your mind, body and spirit in balance.
Many studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of using meditation as a form of natural stress reduction. These studies have shown proof that meditation does lower the biochemical byproducts caused by stress.
Aside from stress relief, meditation has also been shown to:
- Reduce heart rate and blood pressure
- Reduce feelings of depression
- Increase your feel-good brain waves
- Enable you to release negative thoughts and beliefs
Studies at the Benson-Henry Institute for mind-body medicine, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School, has found that meditation reduced metabolism, rate of breathing, heart rate and brain activity.
With all of the positive research surrounding meditation and stress-relieving breathing techniques, it is easy to see why thousands of people use the techniques every day to improve their quality of life.
Deep Diaphragmatic Breathing Techniques
Most of the breaths you take likely originate from your chest rather than your diaphragm.
Obivusouly you breathe subconsciously – without having to think about it. It’s quite natural to have a tendency to keep your tummy pulled in to look slimmer when your breathing. After all, we live in a body-conscious world.
But the problem with this type of chest breathing is that it only fills the top third of your lungs.
Breathing from your diaphragm, the large muscle between your chest and abdomen, allows it to go through its full range of motion and thus completely fill your lungs full of air. Diaphragm breathing will slow your heart rate and regulate lower blood pressure which in turn calms your body.
Action Plan: Breathing Techniques To Lower Your Stress
#1 – Try Meditation Breathing
For starters, find a quiet place without any distractions.
There are no strict rules regarding how to position your body when meditating, but many people who use meditation to relieve stress use the lotus position. The lotus position involves sitting with your legs crossed while keeping your back straight and your shoulders as level as possible. Try to keep your spine straight. This allows better circulation and makes it easier to breathe in the deep, slow fashion that makes meditation work.
If you would like to see some examples of meditation, just go to YouTube and find some free example videos or tutorials.
The goal of meditation is to reach a relaxed state and clear your mind. One effective method to do this is to focus on each individual part of the body – one at a time. Take the time needed to relax your entire body. At the same time, take in deep breaths and exhale normally. Next, focus on inhaling to the count of four, and then exhaling to the count of eight.
Meditation can be used any time you need it. Meditation, combined with focused breathing, is a strong weapon to relieve you from stress and anxiety in minutes.
#2 – Try Deep Diaphragmatic Breathing
To practice diaphragmatic breathing, assume a comfortable position. You can do this by either sitting on a chair or lying down, whichever allows you to relax your stomach muscles most comfortably.
Place one of your hands flat just below your belly button and breathe slowly through your nose. You should feel your stomach expand about an inch or so and your chest will rise at the same time. Now breathe out slowly through either your nose or mouth.
Deep diaphragmatic breathing is also referred to as ‘belly breathing’. It should immediately make you feel calmer and more relaxed since it takes less energy to breathe.
#3 – Alternating Nostril Breathing
This method of breathing exercise, also called nadi shodhana, is a great relaxation technique.
Sit comfortably, then place your left hand up toward your nose. Exhale completely and use your left thumb to completely close your left nostril. Slowly inhale through your right nostril, then close your right nostril with your fingers. Next, open your left nostril and exhale through it. Now do the same thing starting with your right nostril this time. Repeat this exercise for 5 minutes.
#4 – Always Be Mindful Of Your Breathing
Whenever you feel your stress levels rising, you can get instant relief by consciously forcing yourself to take shorter, shallow breaths. Focus on breathing in for at least 4 seconds and breathing out for at least 8 seconds. Focusing on your breathing is really beneficial because it allows you to break the stress pattern building up by turning your attention away from it and on to something else.
#5 – Consider Exercise Classes
If you don’t mind joining a group of others, exercise classes are a great way to practice your breathing techniques while getting all of the benefits of physical activey as well. Yoga, Tai Chi and Qigong are great options.
Breathing is a great coping mechanism you can use to control your stress. It can be done when you need it and wherever you are. You don’t need any equipment and all it takes is a little practice.
Deep diaphragmatic breathing, meditative breathing and alternating nostril exercises will instantly lower your stress and anxiety and improve your overall health. Plus, it will allow you to better cope with situations that get your stress levels up.
Take the time to incorporate regular deep breathing exercises into your routine to improve your overall health and well-being.