Your stress levels affect your breathing, but by changing your breathing you can flip things around and affect your stress levels - here’s how…
For many of us modern life equals chronic stress. We live with stress daily, we accept it as normal and when we talk to each other of our pressures and concerns we say: “tell me about it!” In other words, I have my worries and you have yours and such is life. But over time, chronic stress eats away at us from the inside, it makes our muscles rigid and tense, it weakens our digestive system, and impairs our immune response.
When Stress Feels Normal
When stress feels normal we forget how to relax and we forget how to breathe. We get used to muscle pain and tension. We may develop mystery abdominal pains as we upset the balancing energies of our bodies, our sleep becomes disturbed and we find it hard to sit still and take life in.
One easy way to start to unravel tension and lower your stress levels is to learn to tune in to how you breathe and start making some gentle adjustments.
Getting to Know Your Breath
Breathing is an automatic act, your body takes care of it for you, but if you learn a few simple ways to work with your breath you can use it to great personal benefit.
To change your breath so that you can use it to dissolve stress and tension, it’s useful to first notice how you breath now. By developing awareness of your breathing habits you can learn to notice when you feel tense and adjust into a more relaxed breathing pattern. With a little practice in noticing and then deepening and lengthening your breath you will soon be able to reduce stress and tension anywhere and anytime you choose.
- Sit relaxed but upright in a comfortable chair, plant both feet firmly on the floor with your legs uncrossed, now breath normally, don’t try and change anything yet, just breath how you normally do and pay attention.
- Where are you most aware of your breath? Is it in your throat? High up in your chest? Or deep down in your stomach?
- How does your breath feel? Is it light and shallow or deep and even? Does one breath flow into the next, or is there a pause or hesitancy between your breaths?
- Now notice the speed of your breath, count the number of breaths you take in 10 seconds (inhalation and exhalation equals one whole breath) and times the number by 6 to find out how many breaths you take a minute.
How Awareness Can Get You Calm
Once you’ve notice your usual automatic breathing pattern you can take steps to become a naturally relaxed breather, someone who breathes deeply down into their stomach without tension in the neck or shoulders, or restriction in the diaphragm or muscles of the abdominal wall.
- Take a moment to stretch and relax your neck and shoulders, now drop your shoulders and relax your jaw by parting your teeth a little and wearing a slight smile on your lips
- Soften and relax the muscles of your stomach, and as you breath allow your stomach to expand with each breath in
- Now bring your mind fully to the present moment by pay full attention to your breath as it enters and leaves you body. When your mind is thinking ahead to other things you need to do, it causes an alertness in the body which is a preparation for action, and that state can make your breathing shallow. For now bring your mind back to the present moment and your breath and know that after relaxing like this for a few minutes you will still be able to do whatever it is you need to do, and you will do it with less stress and increased efficiency if you take these moments to breath steadily and deeply, with your neck and shoulders relaxed.
- Gradually deepen your breath as if you are breathing right down into your stomach, filling your lungs deeply from the bottom up to the top. When you exhale, be sure to do so fully and completely empty your lungs. Keep your shoulders relaxed and allow your stomach to expand as your breath in. Slow your breath gradually, let it flow gently and naturally, with no effort. Just breath and relax for 5 to 10 minutes.
Your Breath on Speed
Your breath tends to match the speed of whatever activity you’re doing. Driving, walking, and rushing about getting things done are all examples of times when your breath may become rapid and shallow without you even noticing.
Slowing down in general is a kindness to yourself and a natural anti-dote to stress.
Deep Breathing During Down Time
During slower activities like washing dishes, picking the kids up from school, or gardening your breathing may be slower but you may still be breathing shallowly or holding tension in your neck and shoulders. You could remind yourself at these times to relax and breath deeply, over time this can become a very healthy habit and you will feel the improvement in your overall sense of well-being.
Related articles you might find of interest:
- Stepping Away from Stress
- Your Breath as Medicine
- What if I’m Too Tense to Relax
- Breath, Mind and Mood Blissful & Balanced: Your Brain on Meditation
- Stress Relief Techniques: 5 Things I Learned from Spying on Calm People
Photo Credit: “Spirals on Blue” by Tanakawho