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How To: 3 Breathing Techniques to Help Relieve Stress

By Martha Michael

Woman Taking Deep Breath to Release Stress

The way you’re breathing says a lot about how you feel. If your breathing is shallow, you may be angry. If it’s extremely heavy, you may be worn out from a hike or other strenuous activity. And when you experience shortness of breath, it may be that you’re anxious, which should be addressed right away, before it accelerates from concern to panic.

The good news is that you can regain control with something as familiar as your breathing. An online fact sheet from the American College of Cardiology advises you to interrupt the buildup of anxiety in order to avoid more serious reactions and, ultimately, damage to your health. For starters, the article instructs you to lie down, if possible, or at least be seated and relax your shoulders.

Then you may want to try some of these suggested breathing techniques designed to reduce stress:

Diaphragmatic Breathing

While lying on your back, place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your belly. Breathe in, pushing up on your belly, paying attention to the rise of your belly hand. Then, as you exhale, feel the hand on your belly sink as the air leaves the lower lungs. With experience, you can learn to do diaphragmatic breathing from a standing position.

Pursed Lip Breathing

Place your arms in front of you on top of a table or desk and lean forward. Keeping your lips pursed and fairly closed, breathe in through your nose for approximately 4 seconds, and exhale out your mouth for 6 to 8 seconds.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

Placing a finger over one side of your nose, close one nostril and begin by breathing out, then in the same nostril. After each breath cycle, which is one exhale followed by one inhale, switch sides. Perform 5 to 9 rounds of this exercise, always inhaling through the same nostril you just exhaled through.

Air it Out in Advance

You don’t have to wait until anxiety gets the best of you to reap the benefits of relaxation techniques. Deep breathing is effective as a daily practice, regardless of your circumstances. When you make it part of your routine, you’re more likely to return to a calm inner place when you encounter discord with the boss or a family member, or find yourself caught in a traffic jam.

An article in Harvard Health points out the benefits of breathing techniques to inhibit natural reactions such as the “fight or flight” response that occurs when everyday problems such as money issues or getting cut off on the freeway are unavoidable. Individuals who don’t foster a calm surrogate for stress may be, instead, fostering illness. High blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease, is one of the detrimental results of a life filled with anxiety.

“The stress response also suppresses the immune system, increasing susceptibility to colds and other illnesses,” the article says.

Practice the techniques 10-20 minutes per day, Harvard experts suggest. Your goal is deeper, calmer rhythms directing your focus. And it exceeds the need to just reduce physical responses to negative emotions. Breathing exercises also can serve to feed your soul, made plain by an attitude poised by acceptance and calm -- not overreaction and hostility.

You can further minimize the effects of stressors with practices such as yoga, meditation, acupuncture and chiropractic care. Taking a holistic, multi-pronged approach to your health is an effective means to address the complex nature of anxiety without the need for medication.

Just as stress and anxiety are forces of nature, the best way to handle them is with the natural tools you can access from regular visits to your chiropractor. When you apply the expert advice you get from your practitioner and practice regular breathing exercises, you avert the health risks resulting from long-term anxiety and you stand to improve your attitude by airing out a growing level of negative emotion.

If you haven’t taken early steps to make relaxation a part of your life, you can hope for fast-acting results that includes accepting things as they come. But don’t hold your breath.

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