Your to-do list feels miles long. The holidays are right around the corner. There is unrest in the world. These are just a few things contributing to your stress. Have you noticed when you’re faced with a big deadline or a challenging conversation or some other situation that causes you stress, your body has a physical reaction, too? Your body actually interprets stress as you being in danger and it automatically goes into “fight or flight mode”.
Here are some ways your body is immediately affected by stress, according to the WebMD website (http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/stress-management-effects-of-stress):
- A fast heartbeat
- A headache
- A stiff neck and/or tight shoulders
- Back pain
- Fast breathing
- Sweating and sweaty palms
- An upset stomach, nausea or diarrhea
If your body is subjected to high stress for extended periods of time, you may also develop issues with your immune system, and become more prone to heart disease, anxiety, depression, etc.
The good news is there are lots and lots of different ways you can reduce your stress. If you don’t believe me, do a Google search on “stress”. You’ll get back a listing of over 564 million pages related to stress, many of them focused on reducing stress.
There is one way you can reduce your stress that takes very little practice, you don’t need any special equipment and you always have access to it. It is your breath.
How could the simple act of taking a deep breath help to reduce your stress? According to an article in Harvard Health Publications for Harvard Medical School (http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response)
“Deep abdominal breathing encourages full
oxygen exchange – that is, the beneficial
trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing
carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, it can
slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize
This is the physiological reason taking a couple of deep breaths helps when you’re faced with a stressful situation. Doing this can help you to be calmer, think more clearly and better prepared to handle the pending situation.
So…how do you do it? The tricky part is to actually fill your lungs with air, causing your lower belly to expand. An easy way to practice this is to:
- as you slowly count to 4, take a deep breath through your nose and consciously expand your lower belly not your chest
- hold your breath for four counts and then
- exhale through your mouth counting to six.
Repeat these steps two or three times to quickly reduce some of your stress. In his article, “Three Breathing Exercises” (http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART00521/three-breathing-exercises.html), Dr. Andrew Weil outlines three additional techniques you can explore.
If you’d like to build a more consistent breathing practice, you may want to do yoga regularly or establish a daily mediation practice (believe it or not this can be done in just 10-minutes a day).
Stress can be a good thing in certain situations, and just like with most things, too much stress is not a good thing. Taking just a few deep breaths can help to reduce your stress, easily and efficiently.
I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and by taking some deep breaths when you begin to feel a little stressed, you will actually enjoy this festive time of year even more!