Breathe Your Stress Away
September is a month to start fresh. A new season of awareness so you can feel and function at your best!
Have you ever felt your palms sweating when watching a horror movie? Perhaps you’ve felt your heart racing when receiving critical feedback on a project. These kinds of physical reactions are all part of the sympathetic nervous system activating as a survival response; your body is trying to protect you from danger! When your sympathetic nervous system becomes activated, the heart rate increases, the body is flooded with stress hormones, and blood rushes away from your digestive organs to your muscles.
On the flip side of this, the parasympathetic nervous system is in control when you feel relaxed and safe. Also known as “rest and digest,” the parasympathetic nervous system regulates hormones and digestion. While it is normal and healthy to experience occasional stress, the unfortunate reality is that many of us get stuck in the sympathetic stress response without even realizing it.
Stress is something that we all experience, and it’s an important survival mechanism that our ancestors developed to avoid physical threats and to stay alive! As humans developed greater protection from the elements, physical threats subsided and were replaced with psychological threats. Although we are no longer fighting bears and cougars on a daily basis to stay alive, our brains still respond to psychological stressors, such as being criticized, the same way our ancestors’ brains responded to physical stressors: by preparing the body to fight, flee, freeze, or appease. When we are in a constant state of stress resulting from the demands of modern life, we often find ourselves stuck in the sympathetic stress response. This prolonged stress combined with fear can turn into anxiety and a host of other health issues. Luckily, we have a free, built-in stress manager: the breath.
Your breath is the fastest and easiest way to regulate your nervous system. We know that the nervous system has a direct effect on your breathing, but you can also use conscious breathing as a way to regulate your nervous system - it’s a two-way street! Here are our two favorite breathing exercises for relaxation of the body and mind.
Method #1: Box Breathing
Box breathing is a simple way to quickly bring your nervous system back to rest and digest mode. Begin by taking note of your stress level, relax your shoulders, and release the air out of your lungs.
On the next inhale, extend the breath to a count of 4 while focusing on filling the lower belly and rib cage with air, as opposed to allowing the shoulders to raise up toward the ears (this is stress breathing!).
At the top of the inhale, hold the breath for a count of 4 as you continue relaxing the shoulders.
Then, gently release the air (exhale) for a count of 4.
Lastly, hold the breath at the bottom for a count of 4. Find a comfortable counting pace and repeat 4 times!
When you finish, take note of where your stress level is as opposed to when you started. You will find that as you practice the exercise, your breathing will slow and come with greater ease. This is great to practice in bed to help you ease into a deep and regenerating sleep. Enjoy the relaxation and mental vacation from stress and anxiety!
Method #2: Affirmation Breathing
Mantra breathing combines breathwork with positive affirmations to cultivate a peaceful mind and body. Begin by taking note of your stress level at that moment, relax the shoulders and release the air from your lungs.
On the next inhale, breathe into the belly and say silently to yourself or out loud, “I inhale relaxation.”
On the exhale, affirm “I release tension” and feel the stress melt from your body! Repeat for 1-3 minutes.
When you finish, take note of where your stress level is as opposed to when you started.
This technique provides a focal point for your thoughts and helps you consciously release tension and anxiety. Affirmation breathing is excellent when you find yourself in a stressful situation or when you just want to unwind!
Feel the wonderful calming effects of what you accomplished with your built-in stress manager! Find little moments in your day to breathe consciously and slowly, and you will find that you can manage your stress more easily throughout the day. Free and simple, use it daily unless you have asthma, COPD or other lung conditions. If you have any concerns, check with your doctor before starting any breathing exercises. Take care, and remember, breath is life! 🌟