When we are panicked or unconsciously stressed, we tend to take short,
shallow gasps of air. The resulting lack of oxygen restricts blood flow and
causes muscles to tense. By allowing more air to enter your body, you will
slow down your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, and break the stress
cycle. Explore the following breathing techniques.
Try imagining a spot just below your navel. Breathe into that spot and fill
your abdomen with air. Let the air fill you from the abdomen up, then let it
out, like deflating a balloon.
With every long, slow breath out, you will feel more relaxed.
The next time you are in a stressful situation:
- Sit up straight.
- Inhale through your nose with your mouth closed.
- Exhale through your mouth with your lips pursed (as if you were whistling or kissing).
- Make your exhalation twice as long as your inhalation (for example, inhale for two seconds, exhale for four). Use your abdomen when you breathe, consciously pushing your belly out. Try putting one hand over your stomach, to see how it rises and falls.
- Inhale normally and naturally.
- Exhale fully through a plastic drinking straw - make sure you have exhaled all of the air out of your lungs.
- Inhale normally (not through the straw).
- Exhale fully out of the straw.
- Repeat this exercise for 5 minutes.
- Ideally, do this twice a day.
Keep a pack of straws in your car and do this exercise whenever you're stuck in traffic.
- Focus your attention on your breathing. Take a few deep breaths, exhaling slowly.
- Mentally scan your body. Notice areas that feel tense or cramped. Quietly loosen them. Let go of as much tension as you can.
- Rotate your head in a smooth, circular motion once or twice (avoid any movements that cause pain).
- Roll your shoulders forward and backward several times. Let all of your muscles completely relax.
- Recall a pleasant thought, event, or place.
- Take deep breaths and exhale slowly.
Exercise Your Shoulders and Neck Muscles
- Shrug your shoulders. Stand up or sit. Push your shoulders up around your ears and tighten the muscles as much as possible. Let them drop and relax. Repeat.
- Stretch up and overhead. While sitting in a chair, bring your arms overhead, holding them straight with fingertips pointing toward the ceiling. Elbows shouldn't be locked. Reach skyward with your right hand and then with your left hand. You should feel the stretch, but nothing should hurt. Breathe comfortably throughout.
- Swing your arms. Stand up. Let your arms stand loose at your sides. Lean forward slightly and swing your arms back and forth and from side to side across your chest. Relax. Stop swinging. Lift one arm up over your head, and look over your right shoulder. Hold that position. Relax and breathe deeply. Then try it with the other arm.
- Walk. Go out for a walk, but leave your pocketbook behind; if you carry a bag, you mightthrow your body off balance. Walk briskly and throw your shoulders back as you move. Don't race. Hurrying may make you slouch forward unconsciously, creating tension in the curve of your shoulders. Throw your shoulders back, expand your chest area, and breathe deeply.
Soliciting the Relaxation Response
With a little practice, you can learn how to shift into a relaxation mode. You can start by practicing the following approach. Over time, you will develop an ability to shift into a more relaxed state in the midst of stressful situations.
The practice is simple:
- Choose a quiet place. Select a quiet place that is free of distractions. Create a soothing environment in your home or at work. Turn off the computer, radio, TV, stereo, and telephone.
- Find a comfortable body position. You can sit or recline on a chair or sofa, or sit comfortably on the floor. Make sure you feel supported.
- Silently repeat a word, sound, prayer, or focus on your breath.
- If you find yourself distracted, passively return to that stimulus without judgment or emotion.
You will find increasing benefits if you can commit to an uninterrupted length of time each day to do your practice. Relaxing for 20 minutes once or twice a day is optimal. You might start with just five minutes and build from there.
People use many techniques to relax and feel more positive emotions. Some folks find prayer is
an essential part of their well-being. Some like to reflect on what brought them joy in the day
and give thanks. Gratitude is one well-recognized method of creating a positive emotional state
and the attending benefits.
Find a method that works for you and give it some priority in your life. You will reap the benefits of increased health and well-being!