Breathing for Stress Reduction
Raise your hand if you have stress??!!
I do! I do! I do!
The stress-response is a normal reply to the tough-stuff of life. Our bodies are made to react to stressful situations by releasing certain hormones like cortisol, and adrenaline, which get our bodies ready to activate with an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and breathing. You may have heard of the ‘fight or flight’ response, which is an activation of our sympathetic nervous system. In ‘normal’ or acute, emergency situations, like say, jumping out of the path of a runaway car, these hormones have us quickly reacting and diving out of the way! Once the threat has subsided hormone levels reduce and return to a state of equilibrium and move onward in our day.
Continuous Fight or Flight Mode
But what happens if we are always in low to medium grade 'fight-or-flight-mode'? I'm sure you've felt the stress of worry about paying bills, constant bombardment of cell phones, TV, noise, deadlines at work, travel, comparison, trying to keep up, negative self-talk, cleaning, paperwork, all day and all night? This is chronic stress- where stress-related hormones are at a low-medium activation, all-the-time.
Negative Effects of Chronic Stress
Some of the negative effects of chronic stress are: increased inflammation of blood vessel, with increased work of the heart and lungs, high blood sugar levels, heartburn, stomach ulcers, diarrhea or constipation, and an overall taxing of the central nervous system, along with brain troubles like, depression, amyloid production and anxiety. This leads to potential disease development from system-wide over-stimulation.
So, how do we reduce this over-stimulation and combat the constant burden on our bodies, minds and spirits? We try different things to calm our system and help us regenerate and repair.
De-stress breathing techniques are a simple way to begin your exposure to stress-reduction tools and they can be done anywhere, any time.
Discover Your Breath
To discover your breath, sit or lay comfortably. Begin to breathe, notice the air as it goes in and out of your mouth and/or nose, trying not to control the rate, rhythm or depth- just notice.
Can you feel any sensations? Is it cool on the insides of your nostrils? Does it tickle? Do you notice your chest or your tummy rising and falling? Do you tend to breathe from your nose, or your mouth, or a little of both?
Remember, no judgement at all, just developing an awareness of something that we tend not to notice, since we trust it to just happen.
Once your breathing becomes even, try counting in your mind. Count 1 as you breathe in, count 2 as you breathe out, and continue until you reach 10.
What do you notice?
Sit or lay comfortably.
Close your mouth and inhale through your nose for a count of 4.
Hold your breath for a count of 7.
Exhale for a count of 8.
Repeat 3 times, for a total of 4 complete cycles.
Explore the speed of your counting, notice how the different pace of breath mght change how you feel.
For abdominal breathing, sit or lay comfortably.
Place one hand on your belly above your navel.
Inhale and try to gently puff out your abdomen, allowing your hand to rise about one inch.
Pause for two seconds.
Exhale and let your belly flatten.
Practice this for 3 more cycles for a total of 4 full cycles.
Alternate the speed of your breath and the expansion and flattening of your abdomen.
Try One or Two!
Try one or two over the next week and leave us a comment explaining how it goes! Plus, feel free to share this blog with your friends and family who want to reduce stress.
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Nicole A. Vienneau MSN, RN, NC-BC and has been a Registered Nurse for over 20 years. She is Executive Director of the 501c3 Brave Mind Living where their mission is to share lifestyle strategies with active, older adults to prevent diseases of the brain and body. She loves people and in her work as a board certified Integrative Nurse Coach, she personalizes every interaction and plan to ensure her clients are recognized for the unique strengths they bring to the world. Contact her.