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Stress can be defined as any type of change that causes physical, emotional or psychological strain. However, not all types of stress are harmful or even negative. There are a few different types of stress that we encounter:
Breathing is something most people take for granted. However, most of us do not realize that when we are under stress we tend to hold our breath or take short, shallow breaths. Because oxygen is the most important nutrient for the heart, brain and every other major organ of the body, limiting our intake can have far reaching effects on the body. Therefore, breathing exercises can be very helpful for reducing stress, and relaxes the body as well as the mind. It is a major component of yoga, meditation, Lamaze and other mind-body wellness techniques.
For each of the following breathing exercises, taking a “deep breath” means breathing in air through the nose to fill the lower part of the lungs, then the middle part and then the upper part. “Releasing” a breath means exhaling all of the stale air from the lungs through the mouth before taking in another fresh breath. If you can find a private place to do these exercises, it can also help to make a deep “whoosh” sound as you exhale.
TO HELP WITH SUDDEN STRESS
When stress hits suddenly, it can be very helpful to perform a short breathing exercise before saying or doing anything in response. Examples of sudden (acute) stresses include the following:
In any of these situations, the body’s natural response is to prepare the body for “fight or flight,” a primal series of reactions designed to increase heart rate, respiration and sudden, quick body movement. “Fight or flight” does not, however, enhance the brain’s ability to fashion a mature, socially and professionally appropriate response to a difficult situation. Therefore, people are encouraged to pause, take a deep breath and think before responding. Ideally, people may take a “time out” away from the situation in order to calm down further before identifying and addressing the problem at hand.
TO HELP YOU SLEEP
Thinking about stressful situations before going to sleep can trigger the stress response, which is the exact opposite of what the body requires in order to go to sleep. A breathing exercise can help people turn their attention from their racing thoughts to their hard-working body’s need for sleep.
Each step of this exercise can be done while lying in bed. The steps are as follows:
If attention wanders, go back to the second step, re-focusing on the toes before beginning the process again. If necessary, keep your attention on the toes, skipping the third step of the exercise entirely. Different strategies will be more helpful for different people. It may take some time to find a strategy that works best for you.
TO DO AT WORK
People tend to breathe very shallowly, working for hours without taking a good, deep, cleansing breath. When people catch themselves sighing or yawning during the day, this may be a sign that the body is trying to take in more oxygen. As people continue to work long hours, eating meals on the run or skipping them altogether, a short breathing exercise in the middle of the day can relieve stress and be emotionally and physically rejuvenating. Afterward, people may be surprised to find themselves getting more work done, with better quality.
Each step of this exercise can be done while sitting. The steps are as follows: