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Simple Ways to Use Your Breath to Handle Stress

By Sandy Schroeder

Whenever stress comes up, everyone around me always tells me to relax, but that is easier said than done. When health questions, financial blips or family issues come up, it is usually hard to just relax. Instead the "fight or flight" stress response takes over with a lowered immune response, higher blood pressure or new stress and anxiety symptoms quickly following.

Once that response becomes the norm, it is easy to overreact to all sorts of daily annoyances. Traffic, new deadlines, or other people issues may all make you crazy and agitate you even more.

What to Do

We can't shut down the daily stress makers, but Harvard Health says we can respond in a healthier manner if we use a relaxation response.

Harvard's Dr. Herbert Benson developed the relaxation response technique in the 1970s. The relaxation response is a state of deep rest that can be created with practices such as yoga, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation. Often deep breathing is used as a common tool.

Deep Breathing

At first it may seem strange, but deep breathing works when the air coming in through the nose fills the lungs while the lower belly rises. Many of us have become used to shallow breathing, which means the lower part of the lungs never get enough oxygenated air, which can create anxiety and shortness of breath.

Breathing deeply works with incoming oxygen and outgoing carbon dioxide. In the process, the heartbeat may slow and blood pressure may be lower. As you concentrate on your breath, it becomes easy to move away from the daily commotion.

Give It a Try

Find a quiet spot to sit or lie down. Breathe in through the nose filling your lungs and letting the chest and lower belly rise. Then slowly breathe out through your nose or mouth. As this becomes comfortable, close your eyes and picture something you love, the water at sunset, a flowering bush in your garden, or a moonlit night.

Choose the routine that works for you.

  • Find the best spot where you can be quiet and comfortable
  • Don't try too hard, which just causes tension
  • Do be involved moving into breathing to take the focus away from the stress
  • Establish a daily ritual at the same time in the same manner
  • Devote 10 to 20 minutes a day to each session

As you master the relaxation response with deep breathing consider using it with meditation, yoga or tai chi. The more comfortable you become with it the more uses you will find for it. Heavy traffic, annoying people, and unexpected pressures may all become more manageable when the relaxation response comes into play.

To learn more about your health, wellness, and fitness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic. in Saint Peters, Mo.

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