Stress & Emotional Health Post 6
We’ve discussed the power of our cognitive resources to detect and interpret stress responses and redirect our minds to a place of well-being. But there are additional strategies that can be very effective.
Your breath is very powerful. Proper breathing reduces the likelihood of negative stress responses. Improper breathing creates stress responses. I have a video on my YouTube channel that teaches proper breathing that you should watch. It’s very important that you begin to train your breath so dysfunctional breathing patterns don’t become an additional source of stress for you.
We have enough sources of stress already. We don’t need to allow our own bodies to become another one.
So, throughout your day, you want to periodically assess your breathing. Are you breathing in through your nose and into your belly quietly? You don’t want to be mouth and chest breathing. You want to breathe in through your nose and into your belly. Also, your breath rate should be slow and controlled. Optimally, without thinking about it, you would spend most of your time taking about 6 breaths a minute. Each breath would be about 5 seconds in and then 5 seconds out. This relaxes the body and mind.
But you can even go a step further. You can use your breath as a way of turning off stress responses. This is something I learned when I was dealing with a period of intensive stress that was creating a lot of fear for me. I began to study different forms of breath work and how they impact the human body and mind physiologically. It’s amazing how many different ways there are to use your breath to modulate your physiology and your central nervous system.
There are forms of breath that are very activating and can actually initiate your sympathetic nervous system to increase energy and focus. And then there are forms of breath that are very relaxing and can activate your parasympathetic nervous system. Other forms are designed just to bring you in balance.
Once you begin to experience the power of breath work, you’ll use it throughout the day to change your mental and physical experience in a manner that suits you. I’m going to describe only one form of breath work in this article. This is a form of breath work that’s designed to activate your parasympathetic nervous system and reduce stress responses. By taking control of your breath and using this method, you can begin to turn off some of the physiological responses to stress that can affect how you feel.
This is called 4-8 breathing. It’s pretty simple. You breathe in through your nose for a 4 count. It doesn’t have to be 4 seconds—it’s just a 4 count. Then you pause and then breathe out for an 8 count. Your exhale is twice as long as your inhale. Again, it doesn’t have to be actual seconds, it’s just a count. There’s also a method called 4-7-8 breathing. The 4-7-8 version involves a breath in for a 4 count, a hold for a 7 count, and a breath out for an 8 count. Both are quite effective—either will work for you.
I suggest that you take 5 minutes a day to practice 4-8 breathing. I would do this in the morning while you think about what you're grateful for. Combining this breath work with gratitude exercises is very powerful. It’s a way of calming physiological stress responses and promoting a sense of well-being in your mind.
While doing this exercise, if you find yourself distracted, thinking about your worries or your to-do list, just simply redirect yourself back to the breath and continue.
By practicing daily, you begin to train your body and mind how to respond to this type of breath work. It will soon become a cue that it’s time for your mind and body to relax. And it also gives you a tool to take control of your own physiology. Whenever you need it throughout your day—or whenever you detect stress responses—you can just pull this out of your toolbox.
You can even do this while you’re sitting talking to somebody. Just breathe in quietly for a 4 count through your nose and out for an 8 count while you're listening to them. If this is distracting then don’t practice while you’re in a conversation, but eventually you’ll get to where it’s highly focusing and allows you to be in a calm, receptive state of mind. Others will sense this state of being, and it will calm them as well. Trust me, this works. Simply practice it and use it throughout the day and appreciate what it does for you.
In addition to breathing properly, you need to examine your posture. Are you slumped over, compressing your chest and your diaphragm? Doing so creates a restricted breathing pattern. Or are you sitting upright and feel in control of your body? Poor posture will lead to pain, as well as negative emotional responses.
Even if you’re not exposed to psychological stressors, improper posture and improper breathing can still create a state of anxiety for you.
These are very simple things to attend to, and by doing so, give you a good deal of power over your stress exposures. I have many resources available regarding proper posture, proper breathing, and the use of your breath to reduce stress responses on my YouTube channel and website. Please see those resources if you want extra help with this issue.
The main thing to note is that how you’re holding your body and how you’re breathing have a significant impact on your stress. By simply taking control of these two things, and being mindful about them, you can reduce your threshold for triggering anxiety and fear.
Mindfulness and Meditation
There are many forms of mindfulness and meditation that allow you to take control of stress responses. It’s beyond the scope of our blog series to teach you these, but I do discuss some of them in my book and also have many resources I can point people to where they can learn more about this.
The thing is, you must do it. You must use the cognitive power of your mind to detect and interpret, and then use, resources such as your own breath to calm your stress responses and create the mental state you’d like to be in—a state of courage, confidence, gratitude, and contentment. This is doable for you, you just have to practice it. Soon you’ll become a master of your stress responses.
You should be able to detect internal stress in its earliest stages and begin to use the power of your mind and body to turn it off. You should expect to experience far more well-being, and you should be able to stay in the present moment.
I would encourage you to read more about the different types of breath work and practice them, but for now, if this is a novel concept to you, just start with 4-8 breathing. I promise you, it will benefit you.
Want to take control of the stress you’re experiencing? Follow along with this blog series and follow me on Facebook. There’s so much more to learn!