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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