Especially in this chaotic time, having tools to relieve stress is essential for your wellbeing, and few practices are as potent as breathwork
After such an intense year and 2021 feeling like it’s also going to be an emotional rollercoaster, many people are feeling stressed out and overwhelmed. Maybe you’re still concerned about getting sick, how will the economy be affected, are we going to have to continue isolating? As a society, we are at our breaking point. Although the vaccine is giving some hope that there will be some kind of normalcy at some point this year, we still have a lot to deal with until we’re in the clear.
Feeling stressed is the way your body is telling you it thinks you’re in danger. There’s a chemical reaction that happens in your body to help you prevent injury. This is also known as fight-or-flight response to your sympathetic nervous system is being activated.
Signs and symptoms of stress may include:
- Increased heart rate
- Rise in blood pressure
- Short, quick breaths
- Physical tension in body
- Clenched jaw or grinding teeth
- Trouble getting good sleep
- Upset stomach
- Feeling overwhelmed
How does Breathwork Help Manage Stress?
Breathwork is an active form of meditation where you manipulate your breath to change the way you feel.
Our body knows how to breathe naturally, but a lot of times we aren’t breathing properly, especially when we are stressed. This creates an imbalance in the oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange, which can contribute to anxiety, panic attacks, and fatigue. When you are stressed, you tend to take shallow, rapid breaths from your chest, and you may even start to hyperventilate. This increases your heart rate and creates muscle tension. Your sympathetic nervous system becomes activated, and there is a surge of adrenaline and cortisol alerting your body that it needs to protect itself. When we aren’t breathing properly, our brain also becomes affected. You might have a hard time concentrating, being productive, and remembering things. Our brain uses approximately 20% of the oxygen we breathe. When you consciously breath you will release dopamine and serotonin, helping you feel good and also helping to improve your memory and clear your mind.
When we shift our breathing to abdominal breathing (using your diaphragm), your body enters into a relaxed state. Your parasympathetic nervous system gets activated and slows your heart rate, which helps to reduce the feelings of stress and tension. Breathwork also has mood-boosting powers that help you feel calm and relaxed. And having a daily practice of active breathing is an important component to managing stress.
No Experience Necessary
Breathwork is a simple, yet powerful, practice. Anyone can do it, and it’s perfect for you if you’ve never meditated before or think you’re “not good” at meditating. During the pandemic, I created a seven-day program on how to use your breath to calm your body and mind. It includes guided meditations that help you connect with your body, slow down, and take deep breaths to promote relaxation and rest. In addition to using your breath to calm your mind, visualizations are another powerful technique that can help you cope with stress and feeling overwhelmed. It focuses your attention on more calming and peaceful images.
5 things you can do right now to reduce stress:
1. Notice how you are breathing.
Are you holding your breath? Is your breath really shallow? Is it fast? Is it panicked? Your breath will tell you your emotional state. Place your hand on your belly and take a long, deep inhale using your diaphragm. Using this technique, you’ll notice that your belly expands as you inhale and contracts as you exhale. This allows your body to calm down and relax.
2. Go to your happy place.
Although COVID-19 cancelled our vacation plans, start to imagine that first trip you’re going to take once things get back to normal. Close your eyes and imagine being in your happy place — that place where you feel safe, calm, and supported. This is a place where you don’t have to worry about anything. Embody the relaxation, noticing your body getting softer. Trust me — your mind won’t know the difference.
3. Boost your mood.
Breathwork also has mood-boosting powers that helps you feel energized and clear headed. If you want to feel energized, take a short, quick inhales and exhales, for 30 counts. Then pause for 15 seconds and start the active breathing again for 30 counts. It’s normal to feel tingly, more alert and ready to check off the next item on your to do list.
4. Be present.
When you’re stressed out, it’s easy to get stuck in your head. The more you learn to focus on what is happening now, the more you can control your body’s response to these thoughts and feelings. First, notice five things that you see. Look around you and pick out something that you don’t usually notice. Second, notice four things you can feel. For example, the texture of your clothing or the smooth surface of your computer or phone. Then notice three things that you can hear. Notice the birds chirping outside or an appliance humming. After, notice two things you can smell. Maybe it’s the smell of food or a flower. And lastly, notice one thing you can taste. Take a sip of a drink, or notice the current taste in your mouth.
5. Be grateful.
I know it’s hard to be grateful when there’s so much wrong going on in the world. But when you focus on the abundance you have, it allows your mind to feel at ease. Plus, practicing gratitude helps to lift your mood — we all know that we definitely need more of that in our life. Try doing this practice daily. Make a list of all the things you are grateful for, big and small.
Most importantly, be kind to yourself. You are doing the best you can. This has been too much for anyone to handle. As we adjust and adapt, it’s important to not only take care of our physical health, but also our mental health. Give yourself permission to take time to take care of yourself. If you’re short on time, know that you can always use your breath to calm your body and mind.
You may also enjoy Morning Yoga & Meditation for Energy, Awareness and Intention with Carter Miles