Coping with Stress: try deep breathing

When you are stressed out, it can be difficult to feel as if you are in control of anything. The exams, essays, projects, and presentations have piled up from nearly four months of procrastination and denial. Focusing on a single task can appear to be impossible – but there is one undertaking that can change the way you live your life.

It might sound stupid or funny for someone to tell you that changing the way you breathe could change your life, but it’s true. The amount of stress that accumulates in everyday life can create a worried state. Your body can only handle a certain threshold for stress before your body physically breaks down. When we are anxious, heart rate increases and breathing becomes shallower which can add further stress to the body down the road. By developing good breathing habits you will be able to extend the quality of your life by reducing the negative effects of physical and mental stress on your body.

Deep breathing exercises can make a tremendous difference to daily life. Shallow breathing inhibits the amount of oxygen that flows throughout our body. As we breathe deeper, the diaphragm extends lower into the abdomen while allows our lungs to expand to a fuller capacity. More oxygen is able to be pumped in and carbon dioxide is properly expelled out of the body. The health benefits go beyond the breathing aspects due to the relaxation of the muscles around the rib cage, abdomen, and lower back, causing mass amounts of physical tension to be released.

It may be difficult to know when exactly you are breathing properly, but deep breathing is mindful breathing. You should be able to feel your abdominal expand when you breathe in and contract when you breathe out. On the other hand, you should not observe your chest flapping up and down when breathing as that is the one major sign of shallow breathing. The old method of breathing out of a paper bag held an undesired effect. Even though you were conscientious of taking breaths, they were mostly shallow and fast-paced which prevented proper relaxation and respiration. By replacing a paper bag with deep breathing exercises you will be reduce your possibility of hyperventilation in addition to improving your respiration.

Deep breathing is one relaxation exercise that can be a source of salvation at times of crisis since it is difficult for another individual to easily notice these breathing habits. The only way for an onlooker to observe this behaviour would be if they were to fixate on your stomach. As this breathing exercise offers many of the relaxation techniques used in practices like yoga or meditation, it will help in releasing physical stress and mental anxiety. A relatively minor change in habit can really have a tremendously positive effect on your body and point of view.

When faced with stress, pull your shoulders back and allow the oxygen to fill your abdomen and contract. The stress will melt away.

Republished from The Quill print edition, Volume 103, Issue 15, December 11, 2012.