“There’s never a week that won’t bring on some kind of stress-inducing scenario.”
Keri Tuit, Psy.D, assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale University made this astute proclamation in a magazine article last year while writing about stress relief. And guess what she recommended to relieve stress?
Not a time-out, not cardio exercise, not assertive conversation, nor a pill (though any one of these may be appropriate at some time or another), but rather simply to breathe … deeply. Just your focused awareness on the very thing that is as automatic to you as the beating of your heart. And, it can be done anywhere at any time.
“Breathing is one of the most important connections between your mind and your body,” she says, because here’s what happens when we experience stress.
When the pressure starts mounting […] you go into fight-or-flight mode, and your brain releases a cascade of tension-triggering hormones that cause the heart to race. But you can reverse that process by lengthening your inhales and exhales, which has a two-fold outcome: Measured deep breathing automatically slows down your heartbeat and relaxes your entire body … and as you concentrate on your breathing, you become less focused on your worries, making recovery from stress easier.
This process has been around for many centuries and practiced in yoga, Zen meditation and Mindfulness meditation, to name a few. If stress is getting the best of you, consider taking some classes in one of these practices to help you increase your body/mind awareness and breathing skills.
In the meantime, start with this easy approach:
I am sure you know where stress or anxiety manifests in your body ~ tight shoulders, sore neck, headache, uneasy stomach, shortness of breath … if not, this is the time to become aware of it! So, when you feel this stress or anxiety coming on:
- Focus your attention on your breath. Where is it? In your throat, your chest, stuck at your diaphragm?
- “Consciously” take an easy, deep breath and, in your mind’s eye, send that breath past the stuck point down to your lower belly, expanding/pushing the belly outward.
- Hold it for 3-5 seconds.
- Let the breath out easily, exhaling completely, bringing the belly muscles in toward your belly button (this pushes the diaphragm up, so you expel more air from the lungs, which means that with your next breath you take in more oxygen).
- Repeat these steps, with full awareness, until your breath feels natural and you can “feel” the tension releasing. This may take 5 to10 breaths or several minutes to accomplish.
The more you practice this kind of mindful breathing, the easier it is to do, and the faster you are able to calm your body/mind in stressful situations.
I also love the insights Steven Farmer, psychotherapist and shamanic practitioner, offers about breath awareness.
So … breathe! Inhale deeply, regardless of your concerns, worries or problems; then let it go. Next, allow yourself to breathe a little deeper and slower a few times. Remember that every breath you inhale is a gift, and every breath you exhale is a gift.
That brings it down to the basics, doesn’t it? ~ Breathe and Be Thankful! ~
Awareness (in this case, awareness of breath!) and gratitude (in this case, thankfulness for the ability to breathe!) are two of the most powerful attributes we can cultivate in life, period. How lovely that they are also great antidotes for stress.