Using Mindful Breathing to Control Stress
Using Mindful Breathing to Control Stress Levels
The stress of modern life can have a detrimental effect on our bodies. That is unless we take steps to control and reduce this stress. One simple and free way to do so is to practice mindful breathing.
What Happens to Your Body in Times of Stress?
Stress, or the fight-or-flight response is an automatic physiological reaction to what you perceive as a harmful event threat. Think of when you have just switched off all the lights in your house, and suddenly you here a strange noise outside, or your boss tells you he needs to see you in his office, immediately you feel a tight feeling in your chest, you hold your breath, and you may even experience a cold sweat. Whether it’s your boss, the noise outside or a deadline you have to meet – your body reacts in the exact same way for all perceived stressors.
Externalised stress originates from your spinal cord. Your autonomic nervous system (ANS) sends signals to your body telling it that it is in danger, which then activates your fight-or-flight response.
When your fight-or-flight response is activated your breathing and heart rate increase and send oxygenated blood, as well as adrenaline, to the brain to make you hyper alert. Your muscles then tense up and fill the extremities with blood to prepare for a burst of energy while all functions that are not key to survival slow down. This surge of adrenaline sent through your entire body is what you experience as stress.
What is described above often becomes a chronic situation because our bodies do not distinguish between real physical threat like our ancient forefathers might have experienced or daily office and the school run stress, to your body STRESS is STRESS and the response is the same.
The stress response was never meant to last day after day, it was meant for short periods, minutes and what would have put a stop to the physiological response would have been that fight or that run during your flight. Instead, we have very little of that hence a stress response that continues and plays physiological havoc with our bodies.
What is Mindful Breathing?
Shallow breathing has been known to lead to tension and fatigue which can both be triggers for stress. Abdominal breathing (also known as diaphragmatic breathing) can help reduce this stress and increase energy levels.
Abdominal breathing is a powerful means of reducing stress by activating the relaxation centres of the brain. The abdominal expansion causes negative pressure to pull blood into the chest, improving the venous flow of blood back to the heart.
How to Practice Mindful Breathing with Abdominal Breathing
1. Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down, with your feet slightly apart, one hand on your abdomen near the navel, and the other hand on your chest.
2. Gently exhale the air in your lungs through your mouth, then inhale slowly through your nose to the count of 4, pushing out your abdomen slightly and concentrating on your breath. As you breathe in, imagine warm air flowing all over your body. Hold the breath for a count of at least 4 but not more than 7.
3. Slowly exhale through your mouth while counting to 8. Gently contract your abdominal muscles to completely release the remaining air in the lungs.
4. Repeat until you feel deeply relaxed for a total of 5 cycles. You may be able to do only 1 or 2 cycles at first.
5. Once you feel comfortable with your ability to breathe into the abdomen, it is not necessary to use your hands on your abdomen and chest.
Note: there may be an added benefit of lowering blood pressure when you place your tongue on the ridge of the roof of your mouth, just behind your teeth.
Why Mindful Breathing Successfully Controls Stress
In a nutshell, mindful breathing is a means of taking charge of what you can control. Your breathing is something you can consciously control which has the ability to reduce the symptoms of stress.
For more information on controlling stress and taking care of your overall well being contact Jacky Hattingh.