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Take a deep breath before reading
Just ten minutes of conscious deep breathing a day could reduce your stress levels and improve your mental wellbeing.
Because of our busy, fast-paced society, we often experience some form of stress. Our stress response, often termed ‘fight or flight’, exists for a purpose, whether that be jumping out of the way of a moving vehicle or preparing for a job interview.
In some cases, elevated stress levels can help us complete challenging tasks through a heightened focus and drive and in critical circumstances could be the difference between life and death.
The problem is this response is not designed to be turned on long-term.
Release of our stress hormone cortisol elevates heart rate and blood pressure, pupils dilate, breathing rate quickens but shallows and our body releases energy into our bloodstream priming us to fight back or get out of there.
This heightened state is activated by our sympathetic nervous system but the ‘yin’ to this ‘yang’ is our parasympathetic nervous system which is involved in the conservation of energy and is active during rest and relaxation.
Both branches work together to keep us safe and, if necessary, calm. Unfortunately, our brain does not always recognise the difference between dangerous stressors and less threatening situations. In both cases, the body may engage in hyperarousal symptoms activated by the sympathetic nervous system which in the short term can lead to feelings of anxiety but over time can lead to lowered mood or depression.
Luckily, we have a way to encourage our relaxation response by activating the parasympathetic branch of our nervous system through meditation, mindfulness and breathing techniques.
Deep diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing or abdominal breathing, activates our relaxation response and reverses the fight or flight response.
In addition, we observe an energy boost by improving the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the body’s tissues through a more efficient circulatory system and return of blood to the heart. It also strengthens our immune system and can help to prevent infections in the lungs.
It also might give you a few minutes’ head peace to chill out and re-set and we all know the benefit of that when life becomes a little crazy.
So how do we do it? Perhaps start with this exercise while sitting in a chair:
- Sit comfortably, with your knees bent and your shoulders, head and neck relaxed.
- Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.
- Tighten your stomach muscles so that your stomach moves back in as you exhale through pursed lips. The hand on your upper chest should remain as still as possible.
- Repeat 20 times.
- Try playing soothing tunes to get yourself into the correct mind set. Good luck.
For further advice on breathing techniques and many other aspects of health and wellbeing you can refer to Healthy Options Thrive with further information available at www.lornhealthyoptions.co.uk
Ian Milarvie, Exercise Professional, Lorn and Oban Healthy Options.