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Wednesday, 13 April 2011 10:24

Stress Kills. Just Breathe.

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According to the American Institute of Stress, nearly 45% of all adults suffer adverse health effects due to stress and 75 to 90% of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related complaints. Long-term effects of stress include high blood pressure, anxiety, insomnia, muscular aches and pains, ulcers, skin rashes, and food intolerances. In addition, stress has been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, digestive system diseases, cancer, and aging.

Stress is not to be taken lightly. It can absolutely affect our health. There is no doubt that what is happening in our mind is affecting our body. The good news is that stress is not what happens to us. It is how we react to the stressors. Two people can be faced with the same stressful event and react differently. This means we have the power to manage our stress. If we can quiet our mind, we can relax our body. The blogs that have been written in the Mind quadrant over the past few months are all about different ways to manage stress. To date, the ideas have been the following:
For this blog, I wanted to highlight one of the most important ways to reduce stress. It's free, easy, and portable. In fact, it is with us our entire lives. It is our breath. The simple act of breathing can take us out of our sympathetic nervous system response (stress) and put us into our parasympathetic nervous system response (relaxation). In a normal resting state, the average person breathes about 14 to 16 breath cycles per minute. Under stress, this can increase to nearly 30 breath cycles per minute. In a deep relaxed state, it is not uncommon to have as few as 4 to 6 breath cycles in the same time period.

When we are under stress, our breathing tends to be quick and shallow, using the top half of the lungs. The breathing style that produces the greatest relaxation response is that which allows the stomach to expand rather than the upper chest. This is actually how you breathe when you are comfortably asleep. It is known as diaphragmatic or belly breathing. The following steps can guide you to breathe deeply.
  • Sit comfortably with your back straight. Put one hand on your chest and the other hand on your stomach.
  • Breathe in through your nose. The hand on your stomach should rise. The hand on your chest should move very little.
  • Exhale out through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can while contracting your abdominal muscles. The hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale, but the hand on your chest should move very little.
  • Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. In a few deep breaths, you should feel better.
Some people like to count to ten with each exhalation, thinking of nothing but the number as they breathe in and out. Others like to say a mantra as they breathe in and out. For example, "I breathe in peace (calm, health, joy, trust) and I breathe out fear (anger, insecurity, stress). Some simply like to follow the rise and fall of their breath.

The next time you feel your stress level rising, take a time out and breathe. Can you feel the switch in your body and mind from stress to relaxation through the powerful and simple act of breathing?

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