Breathing is something most of us take for granted because it’s automatic, and we’ve been doing it since the day we were born. But your breath is a valuable antidote to stress, and it’s with you wherever you go under your nose. According to research, deep breathing techniques, in particular, improve mood and reduce stress. Some studies even suggest that, in addition to providing immediate relief, regular breathing exercises can make people less vulnerable to stress by permanently modifying brain circuits.
When you are stressed, you may stop breathing or even hold your breath and not realizing it. Over breathing (or hyperventilating) expels too much carbon dioxide from the bloodstream and upsets your body’s balance of gases, increasing your stress level. Contrasting to what happens when you’re calm and relaxed: your breathing is slower, fuller and deeper coming from your abdomen. You can’t get as worked up if you force yourself to breathe deeply. Your body can’t maintain the same stress levels with the extra oxygen you get in your bloodstream.
Notice how you’re breathing right now. Do your breaths come from high in your chest or deep in your abdomen? Are they fast or slow? If you notice shallow breathing patterns higher up in your chest, you can calm yourself by practising abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing. It’s difficult to hold on to stress and relax at the same time. Deep breathing from your abdomen sends additional oxygen to your brain and activates your nervous system creating a calming, soothing effect throughout your body.
Place one hand on your chest, the other on your belly. Keeping your upper chest still, gently and slowly inhale through your nose and slowly count to four on the in-breath. As you bring the air into the lowest part of your lungs, notice your abdomen rise on the in-breath and fall on the out-breath. Your chest should barely move in abdominal breathing. After each exhale, hold your breath briefly, then exhale slowly and gently, again counting to four, letting your entire body go limp.
Repeat these steps for five minutes each day or do several five-minute sets per day and notice your stress levels starting to lower.