Stress is a common part of our daily experiences and can be a good thing in moderation. The jitters we feel before a big test or the adrenaline rush that happens if we’re in perceived danger help us be more effective in stressful situations. The fast-paced world we live in often causes us to have increased long-term stress levels. Though it often feels like our emotions, including stress, are out of our control, there are many ways to decrease stress in the moment or prevent ourselves from automatically jumping to a stress response.
Breathing exercises are one of the best ways to manage and prevent stress. Being mindful of slowing down our breath can reduce stress symptoms very quickly; decreasing our heart rate, stopping excess perspiration and lowering stress hormone production. Stopping all of these symptoms helps us feel better and think more rationally in stressful moments. Here are some breathing techniques that can help manage stress levels.
Beginning the day with deep breathing. Many of us wake up with worry. We worry about what we didn’t do yesterday and our impossible to-do list ahead of us. Mobile phones and other electronic devices have made morning stress even worse, providing us immediate access to emails, social media, and other distractions. Instead of immediately grabbing your device, give yourself a minute to wake up and focus by sitting up on the side of your bed and breathing slowly and deeply for five to ten minutes. Practicing deep breathing exercises in the morning allows us to get oxygen to our brain and increases blood flow to our entire body, which helps us be more awake, alert and prepared for the day. Think about deep breathing as nature ‘s coffee.
Count to ten. When we are the midsts of a stressful moment, it’s good to have a quick go-to plan for calming down. Deep breathing and counting to ten can be an effective way to interrupt the stress response in the moment. For the first five counts, breath in and breathe out for the last five. Just this quick reset can help your body stop stress hormones and interrupt response symptoms. It gives you a moment to refocus and assess what your next step needs to be to address the stressful situation.
Use a mantra. Breathing deeply and repeating a mantra can calm anxious. Irrational thoughts or negative and untrue patterns of thinking (e.g. “Bad things always happen to me,” or “You will never succeed,”) can cause anxiety. Having a positive mantra that you repeat while practicing deep breathing can correct the irrational thoughts and temper the stress response. Examples of good mantras are, “You can do this,” “I am enough,” or “This difficult time will pass.”
Listening to guided breathing or meditation exercises. At the end of a long day, a great way to de-stress and get ready for bed is to listen to guided breathing exercises or guided meditations. You can find them for free on YouTube or a podcast store. The narrator guides your though breathing exercises using muscle relaxation or guided imagery that’s designed to quiet the mind. Focusing on some else’s voice can be soothing and a great way to prepare for a good night’s sleep.