Managing Stress, With your Breath

by Deb A. Garbeil

In emotional times, stressful times and just plain busy times, we’re often told to “just breathe” or “you need to take a breath” as a way to handle the situation. Taking that one mindful breath for a few seconds may help at that moment, but shortly after we’re likely to go right back to feeling overwhelmed by emotional and physical tenseness. So if taking that one mindful breath does help a bit, doesn’t it stand to reason that focusing more on the breath will help in relieving stress for longer?

The breath is often used as a tool for managing stress and can go by many names, a few are: deep breathing, abdominal breathing, belly breathing and diaphragmatic breathing; which gets its name from the diaphragm, the dominant breathing muscle in our bodies. Our breath is connected to our central nervous system, therefore, how we breathe effects the way we think, feel and the way we handle ourselves. If our breath is slow and calm, this triggers the parasympathetic system or relaxed response. If we are breathing in an opposite manner, this triggers our fight or flight response. Therefore, if we focus on how we are breathing we are likely to be more relaxed in the way we think, feel and handle stressful situations.

Taking time to focus on the breath can help improve day to day life in more ways than just stressful situations. Adding a deep breathing routine to your daily life can give you a relaxed mind, body and attitude. And, with the busy schedules we keep and hectic environments we live in, chances to stop, breathe and relax can seem few and far between. But choosing to make self-care a priority through the breath, makes the chance to stop, relax and breathe just a breath away.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Source:  Mayo Clinic: Decrease Stress by Using your Breath

  • Get into a comfortable position. Close your eyes and bring your attention to your body and breath.
  • Inhale deeply through your nose, allowing your abdomen to fill with air, gently expanding out. Exhale by relaxing and releasing all of the air through your nose.
  • Place one hand on your abdomen, right below your navel, and the other hand on your upper chest. Take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your nose. Feel the coolness of the air as it enters in and the warmth as it flows out.
  • As you breathe in and out through your nose, focus on shifting your breath so that you can feel the rise and fall of your breathing in your abdomen more than in your chest. In other words, make the hand that rests on your abdomen move more than the hand on your chest. Take a deep breath in through your nose, sending it through the back of your throat and down to your belly. Let your abdomen slowly deflate as you exhale through your nose.
  • Take three more slow, deep breaths with conscious focus on the rise and fall of your abdomen. Continue to breathe fully and deeply, allowing and trusting the body as the breath slows and becomes more relaxed.