Despite our best efforts, life can sometimes feel overwhelming. When we start feeling emotional stress, it affects us physically, as well. You may notice that your jaw becomes clenched a bit tighter or your shoulders tense. During stressful times, it’s also common for our breathing to change as part of our body’s natural “fight or flight” response.
Taking control of our breathing is one way to power through the overwhelming moments that occur as part of our daily routine. The stress-relieving power of breathing exercises haven’t been studied at length in a clinical setting, but it’s widely accepted that they can increase mindfulness and awareness of the world around us. This helps to shift our mindset away from the problems that can cause stress and anxiety.
Here are a few breathing techniques that can be especially useful.
1. Abdominal Breathing
Do you become anxious right before a big presentation or event? If so, try abdominal breathing instead of letting your mind conjure the worst possible scenario. It can be difficult to control your breathing during a stressful time, but practice will help exponentially.
To practice the abdominal breathing technique, place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Take full, slow breaths so you can feel your lungs inflating through your diaphragm, moving the hand on your belly more than the hand on your chest. It’s recommended to take 6-10 breaths per minute for 10 minutes. Doing this regularly can help improve blood pressure and heart rate.
2. Equal Breathing
Many people can manage their stress throughout the day, but then their thoughts wander in a negative direction once they lie down at night. In this situation, a technique called equal breathing (also known as Sama Vritti) can put your mind at ease so you can get an adequate amount of rest. Sleep is very important because our body produces more adrenaline when we’re sleep-deprived, and that chemical reaction can contribute to stress.
You simply lie in a comfortable position, then breathe in for 4 counts and out for 4 counts. Your eyes can be open or closed. You should be breathing through your nose and not your mouth because it adds a bit of resistance, requiring more focus. Once you’re comfortable with the 4-4 breathing tempo, you can try lengthening it to 6 or 8 seconds.
3. Alternate Nostril Breathing
This breathing technique has been used as a form of meditation for thousands of years. You simply place a finger over one nostril to inhale, then cover the other nostril to exhale. Switch sides after 1-2 minutes so you’re inhaling out of the nostril that was previously exhaling, adn vice versa. Some people prefer to inhale for 5 seconds, then exhale for 8 seconds. Others would rather inhale for 4 seconds, hold their breath for 7 seconds, then exhale for 8 seconds. Breathe at whatever pace is most comfortable and relaxing for you.