Life provides us with many opportunities to get better at managing stress. Any given day, you may have younger or older people dependent upon you, deadlines at work, pressure in numerous areas. While a remote island getaway or deep tissue massage always sounds like a cure for stress, odds are that neither is always and readily accessible.
So, what are some of the easiest ways to feel back on track? Research has shown that even a 10-minute walk can help us feel calmer and more balanced. Walking gets our blood and our digestive juices flowing. When that walk is paired with meditative practice, the calming effects can increase. Meditation can be as simple as focusing on your surroundings, taking note of your body in an effort to be in the moment and tune out the stressful voice in your head. It is an opportunity to check in and see where you are physically holding stress. Often, just a simple change in scenery and fresh air can provide a reset.
While we are always breathing, there can be a tendency to take shallow breaths, utilizing our chests, much more than deeper abdominal breathing. There is also a tendency to hold our breath more than we might realize. There is a phenomenon, "email apnea," where we tend to unconsciously hold our breath while texting and emailing. Doing this chronically can trigger our "fight-or-flight" mechanism, contributing to a more anxious state. Stressed, shallow breathing can also increase stomach acids, affecting our digestive system and the gut microbiome.
Slower, deeper breaths can activate our parasympathetic nervous system, also known as our “rest and digest” state. When our parasympathetic nervous system is activated, with slower and deeper breathing, it helps tell your body that it is safe. By taking deeper breaths, you expand your muscles, and you allow more oxygen into your body which can have positive effects on your autonomic and central nervous system. Deep breathing can aid digestion which all contributes to supporting gut health.
There are many different breathing techniques and exercises, but a simple one is to place one hand on your belly and one on your heart. Take as deep of a breath as is comfortable, slowly inhaling through your nose, filling your abdomen. Then slowly release, out your mouth. Keep repeating until you feel calmer. Another popular technique is known as 4-7-8, “the relaxing breathing exercise.” You inhale through your nose for a count of 4. Hold for a count of 7 and exhale out your mouth for a count of 8. Typically, this is repeated for 5 cycles. As always, consult your health care professional if you have any concerns.