We’re breathing all the time. But when it comes to stress relief, not all breathing is equal.
The body’s stress cycle
- Our bodies are built to handle periodic crises. When we sense danger, our bodies release “stress hormones” that enable us to respond powerfully and fast. When the crisis is over, those hormones are no longer released. The body returns to relaxed, “normal” mode.
- But chronic stress is damaging. When we’re stressed every day, the “fight-or-flight” hormones keep running. Not a lot, but enough to upset the body’s balance and undermine physical health and mood. The body is distracted from its routine tasks of repair and maintenance. This can result in significant consequences.
Low-level, ongoing stress is associated with
- heart disease, cancer, and stroke
- more colds and infections
- poor wound healing
- digestive problems and weight gain
- disturbed sleep
- depression and anxiety
Deep, diaphragmatic breathing combats stress. Relaxed, easy breathing triggers an automatic reversal of the stress hormones.
Even when stress remains, you can “trick” your body into a less-stressed mode. The key is to get the muscles in your belly, around your diaphragm, to relax. Here’s how:
- Sit, stand, or lie down. Put one hand on your chest, the other on your belly.
- Inhale slowly through your nose. As you inhale, count to four. Your belly should expand, not your chest.
- Exhale slowly through the nose, again counting to four. Feel your abdomen deflate.
- Focus your thoughts on your breath only.
- Repeat five to ten times.
As you get more practice, expand the count for each breath to five, eight, and eventually ten.
Get in the habit of taking time to breathe deeply several times a day. Surely you can give yourself five minutes now and then. Your body will thank you!
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