Photo by Fleur Kaan on Unsplash
3 Steps to restore calm, just by breathing
Welcome to my first post.
Feeling stressed or anxious….? In this post I will share with you an easy way to restore calm. In 20 years of teaching breathing retraining in my Melbourne practice, most of my clients experiencing stress, anxiety or panic found this simple breathing exercise very helpful.
When we are anxious or stressed, our breathing, heart rates and blood pressure increase due to sympathetic nervous system arousal (the fight-or-flight response). One simple way to de-stress and reduce anxiety is to improve breathing. Calming your breathing pattern will help to improve oxygenation, normalise your heart and blood pressure, as well as reduce stress and anxiety levels.
- Find a quiet corner where you can take a few minutes alone without interruption. You may use your car, a bench, a kitchen chair or dining chair or even the floor. It’s best to put your mobile on silent mode.
- Sit down and take note of your posture. Your posture needs to be upright, with your back straight. Relax your shoulders and let them gently drop down. Your head needs to be straight in alignment with your body – not thrust forward.
- Relax your jawline and bring your lips gently together.
- Close your eyes if you wish. Start to nose-breathe gently, counting slowly from 1 – 5 in your mind as you breathe in, and then from 1 – 5 as you exhale.
- Notice that your tension and anxiety begin to ease and those anxious thoughts gradually subside as you slow down your breathing pattern.
- You may use this exercise during the day or before bed for a couple of minutes as needed. With practice you will begin to recognise how your breathing is linked to stress and anxiety levels and take action when your stress levels rise.
WHY IT WORKS
Normal breathing is quiet, gentle and comfortable, apart from when we exercise. But when we are stressed we tend to breathe more rapidly and shallowly, sometimes even developing a “hunger for air”. By nose-breathing slowly and gently, the volume of air we inhale is normalised and as a result, our carbon dioxide and oxygen levels improve.
Try to avoid mouth-breathing, loud noisy breathing, or deliberate deep breathing. All of these may increase the volume of air inhaled and may increase stress and anxiety levels.
Posture is also important. A slumped posture and raised shoulders are often a sign of anxiety or stress. Poor posture may constrict the diaphragm, which is our major muscle for breathing, situated just below the lungs. Breathing will be more comfortable – and effective – if your diaphragm is working effectively.
Tension, soreness and stiffness in the neck, shoulders or jawline may be associated with stress and anxiety. In some people tension headaches may be linked to stiffness at the back of the neck.
Anxiety is a normal reaction when we feel threatened or find ourselves under stress. But if anxiety is ongoing and severe and seriously affecting your life and causing loss of sleep or other symptoms, have a check-up with your doctor.
So, in conclusion, it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3: Relax, breathe, practise.
©Mary Birch 2021