Health & Wellness
Stress Management starts with learning to breathe using a proper abdominal relaxing breath. So often we hear people say “take a deep breath and relax”. I am a nurse and have said this often myself. However, when I have asked people to do this I have observed that they throw out their chest, take a deep breath, clinch their jaw and tighten up the muscles in the neck and shoulders.
Taking a breath this way is anything but relaxing. When we take a breath that causes us to throw out our chest and tighten our neck and shoulder muscles it allows the body to respond by tightening up the stomach and pushing out the chest.
This method causes the diaphragm to be pushed upward decreasing the size of the two lower lobes of the lungs as the upper lobes of the lungs expand. The problem with this breath is that less oxygen enters the lower lobes of the lungs. It is a problem because the two lower lobes of the lungs actually have more blood vessels and more alveoli (air sacks) than the upper lobes. Therefore, less healing and relaxing oxygen is getting from the lungs into the bloodstream and into the body.
More tension is being developed in the neck, the shoulders and the jaw. This type of breathing results in more tension and stress.
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Creating the Relaxing Breath
Breathing is natural and automatic so therefore we do not have to consciously take in a breath.
We can turn a deep chest rising breath into a gentle relaxing abdominal breath.
Simply follow these directions:
Gently push your stomach out. One way to do this is to place your hand on your abdomen and gently push your hand out using the abdomen. As you do, you will notice that you automatically breathe in. This happens because as you push your abdomen out you pull down the diaphragm which creates a vacuum sucking in air.
You will experience the following steps:
1. The diaphragm drops down and the two lower lobes begin to open up filling with air containing oxygen.
2. The diaphragm stimulates the vagus nerve which travels through the diaphragm. The vagus nerve then activates anti-stress hormones which create relaxation and comfort.
3. Now gently take that abdominal breath again, but this time hold your breath for about three slow counts. By holding your breath you create a more efficient gasexchange between the carbon dioxide, a stimulant, and oxygen a relaxant. The breath out is twice as long as the breath in.
The count: Breathe in for a count of three to five, hold for a count of three to five and out for a count of six to ten. A normal exhalation is twice as long as inhalation.
Why hold the breath? Holding the breath allows for a more efficient gas exchange between carbon dioxide and oxygen, a key factor in decreasing anxiety attacks.
Using this type of breathing may result in the following changes:
Trouble sleeping? Three breaths at bed time and you can fall asleep easily as you say to yourself “I am asleep” repeatedly.
Tension headache? Take the prescribed breath and imagine the oxygen flowing into your head. Breathing in relaxation and breathing out tension.
Improve your immune system? Research has shown that relaxing breaths decrease Cortisol (stress hormone) and activate the immune system.
The Random House Dictionary defines stress as, “physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension,” and, “a situation, occurrence, or factor causing this.” The word “stress” actually comes from a Latin word meaning, “distress.”
Stress can be difficult to pin down because it is a very individual thing. For me, public speaking is very stressful – but it may be one of your great joys in life. Remember that since stress is individual, your approach must be personalized, also.
Typically, we interpret stress as a negative thing, but it doesn’t have to be that way.