We all live with stress in our daily lives and we all develop our own ways to cope. However, every once in a while stress builds up and becomes toxic. If left unattended stress can destroy your peace of mind, your relationships, and your health. Fortunately, there is a simple, natural remedy you can learn to control your stress.
What is stress?
Stress can be caused by almost anything: a looming deadline, a sick child, driving in traffic, even planning something fun, like a wedding or party. Chronic or acute stress can cause our bodies to go into “survival” mode. When we are in survival mode our brains release higher levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. If we are in danger, this influx of hormones trigger what is known as the “fight or flight” response. This response can be very beneficial to us, like if we need to run away from danger. But in our modern lives, many of us walk around every day with chronically high levels of these stress hormones – this can make us sick.
How to Manage Stress Day-to-Day
There are many well-known strategies to battling chronic stress. Lifestyle changes like eating a healthy diet, exercise, getting enough sleep and counseling are often helpful. As are relaxation techniques like taking a hot bath, reading, aromatherapy, getting outside and, of course, meditation. However, our busy lives often hinder us from either making or sustaining these lifestyle changes. But there is one simple thing we can do every day to lessen our stress that does not cost any time or money and can be done absolutely anywhere. I am referring to breathing.
How Breathing Helps with Stress Management
We all know we need to breath in order to live, but the type of breathing we do can have profound effects on our wellbeing. Let me explain. When you are chronically stressed your breathing becomes shallow. Shallow breathing is what allows us to engage in cardiovascular activity. However, when you breathe this way chronically it restricts your blood flow. Restricted blood flow causes your heart to pump harder and faster and leaves you at an elevated level of alertness or with strong feelings of anxiety. When you sustain this level of alertness for days, weeks, months at a time the stress hormones begin to break down your body. This can lead to chronic fatigue, lowered immunity, muscle pain and foggy headedness.
How to Breathe Diaphragmatically
By taking deep, full, consistent breaths we lower our heart rate, increase our circulation and become more calm and balanced. In order to gain the benefits of deep breathing it is important to breathe in a style that is known as “diaphragmatic breathing.” We are born with the innate ability to breathe diaphragmatically, just watch a sleeping baby. As we become adults we may lose this natural, deep breathing skill. Fortunately, there are ways to get it back. Here’s how to do it:
- To breathe with the diaphragm, allow the ribs to slightly flare out to the sides while the shoulders and upper chest remain still.
- Breathe smoothly, without jerkiness.
- Take slow, deep breathes but fast enough so you feel like you are getting adequate air.
- Inhale at a consistent depth – deeply but not so deep you feel uncomfortable.
- Allow the breath to flow continuously, with no pause allowed between the breaths, either between inhalation and exhalation, or between exhalation and inhalation.
- Each breath should be taken evenly, so that inhalation and exhalation are the same length.
This may seem like a lot to think about at first. It will take conscious effort to achieve and maintain this style of breathing. But with regular practice it will become second nature to you. Remember, anxiety cannot exist in a calm environment. If you put in effort to turn your body into a calm, peaceful place, your stress and anxiety will automatically decrease. Lowered stress and anxiety will foster better balance within your body and create more health and wellbeing in your life.
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