When the body is stressed, the fight-or-flight response kicks in so it can prepare to survive a “dangerous” situation. A sudden flood of chemicals such as epinephrine and norepinephrine are released causing many changes in the body so it can either fight or run for its life. Blood glucose levels rise to increase energy levels. Systems that are not considered important at the time such as the immune and digestive system shut down so more energy can be used for emergency functions. Blood vessels constrict so blood can be directed toward major muscle groups, causing an increase in blood pressure, and focusing on small tasks become difficult because the brain is only focused on the big picture.
These changes are great when you are faced with a true emergency, but constant stress can wear the body down, making it more susceptible to sickness and poor health. Stress is hard to avoid, but you can counteract its negative effects and help manage it by simply taking a few deep breaths. Below is one type of stress management deep breathing exercise you can do.
The 4:7:8 Exercise
You can either sit up straight or lie on your back. When breathing, you want to use your stomach muscles and not your chest. This allows you to inhale more oxygen. Until you get in the habit of doing this, you can place your hand on your stomach to make sure it rises and falls appropriately.
Exhale through your mouth to clear all the air out of your lungs.
Inhale slowly through your nose to the count of four.
Hold your breath to the count of seven.
Exhale slowly through your mouth to the count of eight.
Inhale and exhale this way for a total of four times.
If you have a hard time holding your breath to the count of seven, you can speed up the process but keep the exhalation twice as long as the inhalation. For instance, you can start out with 2:3:4, work your way up to 3:5:6 and eventually make it to 4:7:8.
Perform this exercise during times of stress to help calm the body. To manage stress, do it at least two times a day. You can do it as many times as needed, but do no more than four breaths at a time for the first month. After the first month, you can increase it to eight breaths at a time if you wish.
Enhance the Benefits
You can combine deep breathing exercises with other relaxing elements, such as:
playing soft music or sounds of nature
closing your eyes and visualizing yourself in a peaceful and calming setting like sitting next to a stream of rolling water with beautiful mountains surrounding you
using aromatherapy (essential oils for stress include rose geranium, lavender, chamomile, sandalwood, neroli, marjoram, bergamot and ylang ylang)
Photo by Sue Martinez / Flickr