The simplest stress tip: A deep breath

All of us know how to breathe, but remem­ber­ing to breathe deeply, is some­thing we often for­get to do.

Why this is important?

When we are stressed out, we take shal­low breaths. Biologically, we are trained to do this.

What does deep breathing do?

Deep breath­ing into the belly helps to engage our dia­phragm, a large muscle that helps to pull down the lungs as we breathe, allow­ing our lung tis­sue to expand and intake more oxy­gen.

Even more important…

When we take a deep breath, our vagus nerve is fired. Very simply, the vagus nerve is an incred­ibly import­ant and diverse nerve in its abil­ity to reach many aspects of our bod­ies, includ­ing the heart, digest­ive tract, lungs, and many more areas, but most import­antly the brain.

The Vagus Nerve. Image cour­tesy of Psychology Today.

When the vagus nerve is stim­u­lated with a deep breath, it basic­ally tells your mind and body to calm down. It ini­ti­ates a chem­ic­al and elec­tric­al sig­nal series to help ini­ti­ate and encour­age relax­a­tion. 

When you prac­tice tak­ing deep breaths often, when you are feel­ing stressed and over­whelmed, and when you are not, you are more able to be calm on a per­man­ent basis.

How to take a deep breath

Close your eyes. Sit erectly (with your back straight, shoulder rolled back­wards slightly) in a chair with both feet flat on the floor, or altern­at­ively lie down on the floor on a car­pet or a mat with your arms rest­ing at your side.

Place your right hand on your stom­ach, right at your waist­line (just under­neath your rib cage).

Begin with focus­ing your on your belly as you inhale and exhale. Initially, focus on feel­ing your hand rising and fall­ing on your stom­ach with your breath­ing as you slowly breathe in and out. Occasionally, check on your hand. Is it expand­ing out with your breath or is it sink­ing in? Your belly should gently expand as you inhale, and slowly col­lapse as you exhale. If this is very dif­fi­cult, ima­gine that your inhal­a­tion is expand­ing your stom­ach out like a bal­loon.

As this becomes easi­er, you can coördin­ate a few addi­tion­al details:

  • Inhale through your nose, release the breath out through your mouth.
  • Try exhal­ing more slowly than your inhal­a­tion. Or try paus­ing for a second or two between your inhale and exhale.

Make it a daily routine

The best time to start to use this is when you are feel­ing stressed out. You can start to focus on deep­er and slower breath­ing in the car, in a meet­ing, on the phone, or any time you notice your­self feel­ing stressed. Ideally, it would be some­thing that you then choose to do daily when you are not stressed also, but start with when you feel tense. I would love to hear what hap­pens when you give this a try!

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