De-stress with your
Have you been looking after everyone else’s needs and ignoring
your own? Are your symptoms telling you to begin looking after
yourself? The effect of mental stress and emotional pressure on
the body can be huge.
If you have difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbance, feel
depressed, anxiety, stress, panic disorders, phobias, IBS,
(irritable bowel syndrome), fibromyalgia, fatigue, tense
muscles, chronic pain, or asthma, you may also have breathing
patterns which are negatively affecting you without you knowing
Breathing is exquisitely sensitive to stress…the secret is to
learn a simple breathing technique which will help you recover
BREATHING LOW & SLOW…
To begin, lie comfortably on your back with a pillow under your
head and knees. Place one hand on your stomach, with the other
hand relaxed by your side.
Gently close your mouth, lips together and keep your jaw loose.
Breathe in gently through your nose, feeling your tummy rise and
expand 'like a balloon' as you breathe in, counting to 7. The
breath should be unforced and silent. As you do this, enjoy
bringing the breath in by remembering something pleasurable, or
visualising a pleasant scene. Counting helps to distract from
negative thoughts, too.
Breathe out lightly through your nose or mouth, counting to 11,
without pushing, keeping your stomach relaxed.
Make sure you relax and pause at the end of each breath out.
When you breathe in, your upper chest should be relaxed and not
moving. From time to time place your hand on your upper chest to
check this. Remember to keep the breathing slow and unforced.
As you repeat this, be aware of any areas of tension in your
body and concentrate on ‘letting go’, particularly around your
jaw, neck, shoulders and hands. Practice this often, and try it
sitting, standing and then walking. Be patient with yourself; it
is worth practising for a while until it becomes natural to you.
STRESS CAUSES ‘OVER-BREATHING
Over-breathing is a normal, (temporary) reaction to emotional
stress, or exercise. You might notice fast, shallow breathing,
adrenaline rush, light-headedness, a fast pulse – all due to the
flight/fight/freeze parasympathetic response in your body. Your
breathing usually returns to its normal, slower state after the
stress goes, or the exercise stops.
Sometimes this doesn’t happen, due to a ‘stressor’, and
breathing can often remain chronically too fast, or ‘high’ in
the chest (‘uptight’) reducing the carbon dioxide/oxygen ratio
in the body. ‘Fuzzy thinking’, anxiety, ‘shakes’, holding the
in-breath, taking deep gasps of air after a few shallower
breaths, or sighing a lot, is typical. People often don’t
realise they may have set up a cycle of anxiety/tension, and
tend not to link their symptoms with the way that they’ve been
breathing. If you habitually take 10-12 breaths per minute or
more, then try gradually slowing the rate down.
OTHER WAYS TO HELP YOURSELF BREATHE BETTER
In face-to-face sessions, I teach people to take fewer breaths
per minute; ideally between 5 and 8, which is far more calming.
We in the Western world seem to have forgotten how important
controlled breathing can be to our mental and physical
well-being. The following disciplines all place attention on
Good posture is essential for good breathing. (If you are
hunched or slouched there is not enough room for your diaphragm
to move freely). Sitting and standing up straight will help you
to use your diaphragm and breathe more effectively. Imagining
some string pulling the top of your head up as you go through
your day, whilst keeping your shoulders relaxed, can help.
Taking time to relax can be a very effective way to gain control
of your breathing. Reading, taking a bath, and other ordinary
activities are all ways of relaxing the mind and body. There are
also many relaxation tapes and exercises available on the
market. However, when you use tapes or exercise programmes
ensure that you ignore instructions to take deep (strong,
forced) breaths, as this is counter-productive to controlled
breathing from the belly. (See ‘Myths and Misconceptions’
Try and take regular balanced meals. If you tend to snack, cut
down on foods high in carbohydrate such as chocolate bars or
crisps as they make your sugar levels rise then fall rapidly.
This can act as a trigger to make you over-breathe. Cut down on
drinks that contain stimulants such as caffeine as these can
also trigger your body to over-breathe. Tea, coffee and cola are
all drinks that are high in caffeine. Try decaffeinated