Dear Barb,

Why does everything in life seem so difficult to me? I get too stressed out about things and I think it is affecting my attitude about life and my health. I have heard that mindful breathing is helpful to reduce stress. What are the steps to mindful breathing?



Stressed Out


Dear Stressed Out,

Stress happens when you’re faced with a challenge or a demand in life, resulting in physical and emotional tension. It is the flight-or-fight response getting the body ready for action. Your heart rate and breathing increase instinctively. Short-term or acute stress goes away quickly, such as when you argue with someone or are running from a house on fire. It protects you or helps you to accomplish difficult tasks.


Everyone experiences stress, but it can be harmful to your health if it occurs over a longer period of time.


I use the metaphor of holding two glasses of water straight out in front of you at shoulder height representing stress. After 2 minutes, then another 2 minutes, then holding the glasses for 20 more minutes, your arms will soon become overtaxed, and it will become painful to continue holding them in front of you at shoulder height. Enduring for a short-term is much easier than continuously holding them for a very long timeframe.


Chronic stress is constant and will continue for weeks or even longer. When your stress lasts much longer in situations of life, when you’re having financial difficulties or other lingering problems, your body will continue to stay in an alert and reactive state. The biggest danger is that even when there is no longer any danger, you can’t stop that state of mind or emotional turmoil. You just change to another problem to be stressed out about. Jumping from one difficulty or inconvenience or stress to another will lead to psychological and physical symptoms eventually.


Stress and strong emotions can trigger asthma. It will worsen your symptoms if you have asthma because the stress affects your breathing – even if you don’t have asthma, your muscles tighten up and your breathing rate increases.


Mindful breathing can help reduce stress. If you want to try mindful breathing, here are the steps:



Close your eyes in a quiet environment.


Breathe in through your nose and count to four.


Hold your breath and count to seven.


Exhale through your mouth to the count of eight.


Repeat 3 times.


This is the 4-7-8 breathing technique. Another technique is the 7-7-7 which is the same steps with a longer count for each step.


This technique can reduce anxiety and also help with burnout, certain types of pain relief, and decreases negative thinking.


Controlling your thoughts while doing this mindful breathing will be a challenge at first since thoughts will come into your head that you must push away temporarily. Like anything, it takes repetition and setting time aside to do mindful breathing on a regular basis. 


Barb Rock is a retired mental health counselor and the published author of "Run Your Own Race: Happiness after 50.” Send any questions related to mental health, relationships or life issues to her at [email protected] or text to (253) 377-9668.

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