Breathing for stress management
It’s a FACT that life sure can get stressful sometimes with all the responsibilities we have in our lives. We all deal with stress at different proportions throughout our lives and can leave us feeling like, “How do we get away from all of this stress?”. As nice as it would be to take a vacation to Hawaii or the Bahamas every other week, that is just not possible or practical almost all of the time *unfortunately*. However, breathing for about 5 minutes a day can be one way to help with reduction of stress levels on a daily basis by activating our parasympathetic nervous system.
What is your parasympathetic nervous system?
You have two branches of your autonomic nervous system, your parasympathetic system and your sympathetic system. These systems create bodily responses that are activated based on sensory input from our environment resulting in a bodily response to the stimuli.
Your sympathetic system is known as your “fight or flight response” and is responsible for preparing the body for stressful situations. Activation of your sympathetic nervous system can result in things such as increased heart rate, enlarging pupils to improve vision, slowing down digestion, redirection of blood to your muscles through restricting blood flow of certain areas, and sweating.
Your parasympathetic system is responsible for the “rest and digest response”. Activation of this system can result in a decrease in heart rate, increased salivary secretion, stimulation of intestinal motility for adsorption of nutrients, and pupillary contraction.
Both systems play important roles in the functions of our body. The sympathetic system, however, gets a bad rap sometimes because while it helps us when we are exercising or reacting to temporary stress it can often be over activated and cannot always discern situations where it is called for and situations where it is not. Because it isn't designed to be on and stimulated by life stressors constantly, over activity of the sympathetic system can be SO taxing to your body. But, as I mentioned, there is a way to increase activation of your parasympathetic response through BREATHING.
Well how does that work?, you might ask.
- Start with the basics
- Breathe in gently through the nose
- Breathe out gently though the mouth
Work on keeping the neck relaxed when performing an inhale
Think about when you breathe in working to expand your rib cage in the front, back and sides and letting the breath fill the belly with air
If you are exhaling twice as long as your inhale you are already activating your parasympathetic nervous system! Example: inhale for 4 seconds, exhale for 8 seconds.
- Gently inhale through the nose counting to 4
- Hold your breath for a count of 7
- Part the lips and gently exhale for a count of 8
Repeat steps 1-3 for 6 repetitions
Take a minute of normal breathing
And repeat the entire breathing pattern again for 6 repetitions for a total of 3 total cycles
5-5-5-5 Box Breathing
- Gently inhale through the nose mentally counting to 5
- Hold the inhale for 5 counts
- Part the lips and gently breathe out of the mouth for 5 counts
- Hold the exhale for 5 counts
Repeat steps 1-4 for 5 minutes
Controlled alternate nasal breathing
- Exhale completely then using your right thumb close your right nostril
- Inhale through the left nostril and then close your left nostril with your ring finger
- Remove your thumb to exhale from your right nostril
- Exhale from the right nostril and then seal it with your thumb again
- Open your left nostril and exhale through the left nostril
Repeat steps 1-5 for 5 minutes
Cyclic Sighing (physiological sigh)
- Inhale through your nose
- Take a second inhale through your nose (this one is usually shorter)
- Exhale through your mouth
Repeat steps 1-3 for 2-4 times
Try each of these and take note of how you feel to determine the breathing technique for you. What works for you one day may not be the better technique the next, so keep playing with these and practicing downregulating that sympathetic nervous system babe.
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