When we are stressed, our bodies go into “fight or flight” mode; heart rates increase, respiration speeds up, blood pressure increases, and we involuntarily prepare ourselves to deal with whatever is stimulating the nervous system. This is an effective system in the short term, but our
bodies are not meant to be here for long. Time in a sympathetic state should be properly balanced with time out of it. Unfortunately, given the amount of stressful stimuli we encounter each day, many of us stay in this state for a prolonged period of time.
There is, however, a few ways to actively remove ourselves from here and pull us down into a parasympathetic (or relaxed) state. The simplest way to do this is by controlling our breath.
We tend to take shallow breaths and become “chest breathers” when we are stressed -inefficiently trying to pull as much oxygen into our system as quickly as possible. To counter this, we can practice “diaphragmatic breathing” (or belly breathing). This will both trigger our nervous
system to calm down while delivering more oxygen into our system per breath.
To execute, simply sit comfortably and place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your belly. Breathe deeply into your hands while visualizing pushing your diaphragm (which sits just below your ribcage) down towards your hips. Exhale fully and repeat for several minutes.
Many people take a “box breathing” approach: inhale for the count of 5, hold your breath for the count of 5, exhale for the count of 5. Better yet, you can practice “360 breathing” by placing your hands around your ribcage and pushing your hands out laterally with your breath. Box breathing
can be performed with 360 breathing as well.
Happy breathing :)
Stephanie Spoto, CSCS