Stress is part of life. Breathing is sustaining life. Breathing the right way can reduce your stress by 90%.
Our bodies are equipped with a stress mechanism that protects us from real or imagined threats. This system has evolved through millennia and though we have less physical threats in today’s society compared to the threats encountered in the savannah, we still get stressed.
The causes of stress are different; they relate to objective difficulties, such as losing one’s job or having an income reduction or facing the serious illness of a loved one. The causes of stress can also be perceived, that is the person fears a situation such as relocating, or having to do a spring cleaning, or whatever it is that makes them feel they don’t have the inner resources to deal with the situation.
Stressors can be minor things, such as an annoying traffic jam or serious situations such as loss, life-threatening illness and so on.
Prolonged or chronic stress results in anxious feelings or anxiety-based disorders, sadness, depression, and reduced attention. Stress affects how we feel and how we think. Decisions made under stress tend not to be optimal.
When thinking under pressure we tend to blank our or not process all the information at hand. Stressed people don’t utilize their mental capacity to the fullest.
Consider this- you are stressed for some reason. You feel pressure, tension, tight. Then you have to make a major decision. You decide on one of the alternatives while stressed out and then, some time later, you realize it wasn’t the best decision. You start berating yourself, feeling inadequate or even stupid. And you are still stressed, as on top of the original stress you are now stressing over this decision.
How can you stop the stressful feeling and restore relaxation?
In a simple, easy way: by breathing slowly and deeply. That is by doing diaphragmatic breathing.
Research led by various investigators, such as Wang and collaborators in 2010, Lehrer and Gevirtz in 2014 and Wei and collaborators in 2016, shows that there is a shared physiological basis of breathing, emotion, and cognition that involves the autonomic nervous system. There are thousands of studies showing that even a single deep breathing practice significantly reduces blood pressure, increases heart rate variability (HRV), oxygen levels in the blood, improves pulmonary function and overall cardiorespiratory fitness.
Brain studies using EEG show that regular breathing practice during yoga and meditation increase β-activity in brain regions that are associated with enhanced cognitive performance, better attention, improved memory, better decision-making, and emotional regulation.
How to practice diaphragmatic breathing
- Create a daily routine
- Sit comfortably in a chair, remove your glasses, and gently close your eyes. Focus on the pattern of your breathing.
- Put one hand on your chest.
- Put the other hand on your belly button.
- Take a deep breath through the nose.
- Feel your stomach rise as you inhale slowly.
- The hand that’s on your chest should not move.
- Exhale, noticing that your outbreath is twice as long as the inbreath.
You know you are doing it right when you take fewer in-breaths per minute (aim for four) and when your out-breath is prolonged (meaning that you emptied the air from your lungs).
Try to practice 3–4 times per day, for about five to ten breaths each time. Make sure you practice first thing when you wake up and just before going to sleep.
Slow and deep breathing is the most effective way to bring oxygen to your blood and system. Most people are shallow breathers, which is associated with being stressed.
Diaphragmatic breathing is the natural way to breathe. Just observe a baby doing it naturally! The image evokes a feeling of peaceful relaxation.