The Surprising Fast Track to Stress Reduction
How do you deal with a stressful event? A heated conversation with your partner, a tight deadline riddled with competing demands, quarantine with teenagers, you get the picture! When anxiety is running high, it’s hard not to let it get the best of you.
Given the fact that it is so difficult to change one’s emotions using thoughts alone, try “talking yourself out of” intense anger or anxiety, learning to use the breath is a very powerful tool for managing negative emotions.
One reason why is that emotions and breathing are closely connected. A revealing research study by Pierre Phillipot showed that different emotional states are associated with distinct respiration patterns.
When you’re triggered by a sudden stressor, your body’s autonomic nervous system responds by preparing you for adversity. This is the fight, flight, freeze response you may be familiar with. Before you’re aware of what’s happening, your heartrate has accelerated, and your breath has quickened and you’re prepared for action. Alternatively, you might hold your breath or restrict breathing.
So depending on whether you’re revved up in anxiety or frozen in fear, taking a deep breath may either make you feel more anxious, as in the sped up response, or calmer if you were holding or restricting your breath.
Fortunately, we can control our breathing to manage our autonomic response. When you’re anxious, the physiological breathing technique is the fastest way to calm.
Labeled the Physiological sigh by Stanford researcher Mark Krasnow, this super simple breathing method has been called the fastest path to stress reduction. Especially helpful because you can do it anywhere!
This practice works to reduce stress by decreasing the CO2 levels in the lungs, bringing the autonomic nervous system (ANS) into balance and downregulating your emotional state.
• Calms the mind
• Oxygenates the body
• Brings your nervous system into balance
• Creates equilibrium between alertness and relaxation
• Sitting or standing, begin by exhaling fully
• Eyes open or gently closed, take 2 full inhales through the nose followed by an extended exhale through the mouth, breathing all the air out.
• Complete 2-3 rounds
• At the end, drop your hand down, take a big breath in through both nostrils, hold in a few seconds and sigh it out. This is a great time to do a short meditation if you want to make this part of your daily routine.
• Breathe fully into your belly, extending it to create space as the diaphragm lowers, then continue breathing upward into your chest, which begins to expand as your belly moves slightly inward.
• For each breathing cycle, be sure to take a full breath in and to exhale completely; bringing the maximum volume of oxygen into the lungs.
• With practice, extend the length of the breath, making the inhalations and exhalations full gentle, slow, and extended.
The neural circuits that control the heart work a little more slowly than those which control the lungs, so the heart rate will take about 40 seconds to come down.
If you find it hard to breathe through the nose due to congested sinuses, you can keep your teeth clenched, open your lips and breathe in through the mouth, followed by a normal exhale.