We all know how stressful life can be. Besides the tragic losses and setbacks in life, we all live with low-level chronic stress. This part of everyday life involves juggling multiple, conflicting demands on our limited time and energy. The end result is that our stress response system can run amok, and if stuck in overdrive for too long, chronic health problems ensue. In fact, the CDC estimates that over 80% of doctor visits are stress-related.
So what can we do about it?
In the long-term, we all need to consider a lifestyle adjustment. But in the short-term, we can decrease the body’s stress response by paying closer attention to our breathing. Why our breathing? Because it is easily affected by our response to stress and it is the cornerstone of all forms of relaxation and meditation. Taking deep, diaphragmatic breaths counteracts our stress response and initiates a relaxation response
Breath and the Relaxation Response
Our breathing becomes rapid and shallow when under too much stress, resulting in anxiety and systemic inflammation in response to the stress hormones. But when we change our breathing to be slower and deeper, the body’s relaxation response stimulates the brain to release neurotransmitters that produce a sense of calm. So when feeling stressed try taking a few long, slow, deep breaths. As you breathe in through your nose you should feel your belly bellow out. Hold your breath several seconds, and then slowly release it through your lips, completely emptying your lungs. At first you may need to practice this breathing technique by lying on your back and placing one hand slightly below your navel and the other hand on your chest. If you are breathing correctly, you’ll feel the hand on your belly rise up as you inhale and feel it fall back down toward the spinal column as you exhale. In no time, you will be able to apply this technique while standing and going about your day. It helps to breathe like this as often and for as long as you can.
This article was originally published in the Summit Clinical Services newsletter, At the Summit Issue 23 | Winter 2017. To view additional newsletters, click here.