The subject of managing stress never gets old, does it? Covid-19 has resulted in the increase of our daily stresses. It is no secret that constant stress leads to a plethora of negative health consequences. While there are many proven ways to manage and reduce stress, the simplest method of all may have eluded you…. till now.
Deep Breathing for Relaxation
Have you ever observed your breathing patterns as soon as you wake up in the morning? Or at times when your body is completely relaxed? You will find that your breath is longer and deeper. This same effect is what we induce when we consciously practice deep breathing in moments where our minds and bodies feel stressed. Our bodies typically respond to stress by going into ‘flight or fight’ mode resulting in an increased heart rate, fast breathing and high blood pressure. These can be counteracted by deep breathing which in turn sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax.1
The great thing about using breathing techniques for managing stress, is that they are easy to learn and can be done from anywhere, at any time. You don’t need any equipment and you can do them seated, lying down or even standing..
There are different types of breathing exercises, all of which have similar benefits. However, as with everything in life, the choice is yours and you can experiment and learn what works best for you. This article is merely a catalyst to encourage you to hone a useful technique that can help you live a healthier, longer, better life.
4-7-8 Breathing Technique
This technique is great when you begin to feel anxious. It is also an effective exercise to perform just before you go to bed for more restful and deeper sleep. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, an American celebrity doctor who advocates the use of alternative medicine, the 4-7-8 breathing technique can also help to manage cravings and reduce anger responses.2
How to do it ?
Sit in a comfortable position and place the tip of your tongue on the tissue behind the top front palate and focus on the following breathing pattern.
- Exhale and empty your lungs.
- Breathe in quietly through your nose for 4 seconds.
- Hold your breath for a count of 7 seconds.
- Exhale forcefully through your mouth, pursing your lips and making a “whoosh” sound, for 8 seconds.
- Repeat the cycle up to 4 times.
It is recommended to use this technique at least twice a day to start seeing benefits.
Diaphragmatic Breathing Technique
The diaphragm, which is the muscle at the base of the lungs, plays a very important role in breathing. It expands and contracts to support the lungs in the breathing process. We are born knowing how to use this muscle effectively, but as we grow older our breathing becomes shallow and as a result, we don’t get the full benefit of this important muscle.3
Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as ‘belly breathing’ improves our oxygen levels. This type of breathing can help to slow the heartbeat and stabilize blood pressure which is beneficial for your overall health and wellbeing.3
How to do the technique?3
Start by laying on your back, on a flat surface (or in bed) with your knees bent. You can place a pillow under your head and your knees for support, if that's more comfortable.
- Place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your belly, just below your rib cage.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose, letting the air in deeply into your lower belly. The hand on your chest should remain still, while the one on your belly should rise.
- Tighten your abdominal muscles and let them fall inward as you exhale through pursed lips. The hand on your belly should move down to its original position.
You can also practice this while you are seated, with your knees bent and your shoulders, head, and neck relaxed. Practice for 5 to 10 minutes several times a day to reap the benefits.
These simple exercises are a good way to start your journey towards better breathing. There are more advanced techniques such as the ‘Wim Hof’ breathing method4 which you can explore once you feel you are ready. We hope this information will help you to manage your stresses better and lead a calmer, better life.