I just heard that in the United States 80-85% of all doctor visits involve problems related to STRESS! No surprise, eh?! While it is difficult to actually remove the stress in our lives the most effective treatments include ways to deal with the stress on a daily basis and thus reduce the harmful effects..
The best, quickest, and most effective thing you can do to take charge of your stress is to Take a Deep Breath!
Now there is a certain way of doing this that insures that it will be effective.
Here are three tips for doing it well:
1. Breathe with your belly. A lot of people tend to breathe using mostly their upper chest, especially in tense situations. Think of a tense situation that just happened in your own life. Try to picture it in your mind and pay attention to how you felt and how you were breathing at the time. If you weren’t paying attention to how you were breathing then, do a quick bodyscan right now and see how you are breathing right now as you reproduce the incident and feeling. Are you breathing faster and higher in your chest? Most people do when feeling stressed.
So it is better to breathe from your belly. When you breathe in allow the air to fill your lower chest, pushing down your diapragm and letting your belly expand instead of your chest. Then gently push your breath out by letting your belly settle back to it’s normal position (or you might want to contract your belly a bit past normal to help push the last little bit of breath out). Try it a few times. Do it slowly and smoothly.
2. Slow your breathing to 10 or fewer breaths per minute. This is important and not particularly hard to do. Pay attention to splitting each breath into two parts–the Inbreath and the Outbreath. Now take a breath and let it out fully. Then when you begin taking the next inbreath start counting slowly to 5 (representing 5 seconds). When you get to 5 roll smoothly into your outbreath and count slowly to 5 again. Repeat this several times. This rhythm represents a breathing rate of 6 full breaths per minute. You should not feel out of breath and you most likely will feel a sense of relaxation as your blood fills with oxygen and carries it to your brain resulting in clear, calm thinking. Try it, you’ll like it!
3. Take a deep, full relaxing breath whenever you feel stressed! This will take some awareness on your part. You will need to pay attention to when you are in a stressful situation and feeling tense. One way to tell is by noticing if you are breathing shallow and fast (this is how the body automatically deals with stress, called fight or flight breathing). When you notice this stop and take several (or at least one!) deep breaths as described above. There doesn’t need to be a big dramatic shift. In fact no one need know or even notice the change in your breathing. But what they may notice is how much more calmly and efficiently you act!! As a nurse, I got into the habit of stopping outside the door to my patient’s room to take a slow, deep breath before I entered. I noticed my subsequent time with the patient went much smoother and calmer!
And finally, you may want to practice this deep therapeutic breathing for a longer period of time each day. Try sitting somewhere quiet and peaceful and breathe like this for 5 minutes or even 10 mintes, if you have time. After a few days you may notice your frantic reactions to stress melt away. You will feel healthier and actually be healthier! Try it!