The simple answer to this question is: YES!
However, in my experience if you start just any old stress management technique without really understanding what stress is, your chosen technique may not work – and even if it does, you will massively limit the potential benefits. I only realised this in retrospect. Months of hospital visits and anxiously waiting for the next phone call with doctors’ test results was in itself hugely stressful, but only when looking back did I realise it was largely the stress that had caused the problems in the first place. That in turn was my inspiration for understanding more about stress and what it can do to us. If only I’d known more about this in the beginning, I may have avoided many if not all of those crowded hospital waiting rooms…
SO WHAT IS STRESS?
“Being stressed” actually means something has caused your body to invoke the #stressresponse. This is a primitive, physiological response designed to protect the body from a threat to survival (such as being chased by a tiger). To give us the best chance to outrun the striped fellow, our heart starts to pump faster, our muscles take on the ability to clench faster and stronger, and our thinking quickens. Meanwhile, to enable all these functions to operate at their optimum, other less necessary bodily processes are compromised: growth hormones, sex hormones, the immune system and the digestive system work at ‘half mast’ to allow extra energy to be delivered to all the processes necessary to flee the threat.
In today’s day and age, “stress” is unlikely to involve savage animals, and more likely to mean running late for work, being stuck in traffic, worrying about the outcome of an interview…or losing network coverage at a crucial point! These modern-day stressors are of course not comparable to being chased by a tiger, but the body doesn’t understand this: the same hormonal changes are invoked whether we are late for a bus or fleeing a wild cat. In simple terms this is why losing the WiFi before a meeting can result in palpitations, sweaty palms and tense neck and shoulders. If this is happening on a daily basis meanwhile, these stressors can chip away at us and can wreak havoc on our health.
OUT OF CONTROL…
The ‘symptoms’ of stress tend to build up without our really being aware of them, and this in itself can add to our stress as it makes us feel out of control.
It follows then that successful #stressmanagement should put us back in control, and this is why DEEP BREATHING is so effective.
To understand this, we need to understand a little about the body’s own natural antidote to the stress response:
“the relaxation response is a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress (e.g., decreases in heart rate, blood pressure, rate of breathing, and muscle tension)”
In primitive times when fleeing that wild beast there were two possible outcomes: (1) you died, (2) you returned to your cave and slowly – injuries permitting – the relaxation response aided your body to calm and return to ‘normal’. When confronted with our modern day “bit-by-bit stressors”, the relaxation response rarely gets a look in: somehow we have to create that sense of calm. Deep, conscious breathing can be our answer to this.
Breathing deeply and consciously into the tummy (“belly breathing”) will:
- Lower blood pressure
- Encourage the heart to beat slower
- Encourage muscles to relax
- Oxygenate the blood so that the brain releases endorphins
…all of which sounds pretty helpful if you are feeling stressed!
“Practising deep, conscious abdominal breathing actually activates the body’s natural relaxation response”
So it’s a fabulous stress management technique that you can use anytime, anywhere…soooo simple!
We do have to remember that this takes practise. We’ve been breathing all our lives without really thinking about it, and that means lots of little ‘bad’ breathing habits will have crept in. Take a look at the video below to help you to achieve true abdominal breathing, and then make sure you put aside just 5 minutes a day to practice. These five minutes will become a little pocket of “me time” that you actually look forward to once you grow used to the technique and start to realise the benefits.
5 TIPS TO MAKE SURE YOUR DEEP BREATHING REALLY WORKS:
- Take time to understand what stress is doing to you first, and to understand why deep breathing will help
- Put aside time every day – even if it’s only five minutes – to fully focus on practising deep breathing. Only when it becomes second nature to breathe this way will you truly be able to put it to use during stressful situations
- Find a quiet place, away from distraction, and make it special to you. Use a favourite cushion, light your favourite candle or use a few drops of your chosen essential oils. Take time over your choices, and then make the time yours and make it enjoyable
- Drink a glass of water before you start, and refill the glass to have some at your side
- Turn off all phones, laptops and electronic devices!!! (Go on, you can do it: it’s only for 5 minutes!)
My challenge to you is to slot 5 minutes of breathing practice into your routine every day from today and for the next 3 weeks. Create a simple chart and make a note of how you were feeling each day before your breathing practice (a sad or smiley face, or a simple comment such as “tired”, “cranky” or “stressed out” is enough), and then jot down how you feel after your practice. At the end of the 3 weeks take a little time out to look back over your notes and see what you feel you’ve gained.
If you genuinely put the effort in and start to focus on the power of your breath, it can be truly transformational:
“When you own your breath,
Nobody can steal your peace”