Did you know that your body has a natural relaxation response? Rather than zone out on music or television, there are things you can do in order to reduce stress in your life. Deep breathing exercises are just one way to invoke your natural relaxation response.
By doing deep breathing exercises, you can change the way your body responds to stress.
In short, your body can use deep breathing to allow the following body functions to happen:
- You can increase the level of NO (nitric oxide) in your cells. This helps dilate blood vessels
- You can lower your blood pressure
- You can slow your breathing down with deep and meaningful breaths
- You can lower your heart rate so you can feel calmer
- You can slow down your metabolism so that it is more relaxed and efficient
Deep breathing exercises can be done anywhere and at any time. You don’t have to lie down on your couch or bed to make this work. By doing deep breathing, you engage your brain so that you experience an increased sense of focus, profound calmness, and relaxation of the body.
While you can do deep breathing exercises anywhere, you need to do it for 20-30 minutes per day in order to lower your levels of stress and anxiety. During this time, deep breathing will bathe your brain in the vital oxygen your brain needs at all times.
You’ve heard of the “fight or flight response.” It involves the sympathetic nervous system. Deep breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which functions in an opposite way compared to your sympathetic nervous system. Instead of feeling keyed up and stressed, you can experience calmness, peacefulness, and a better sense of well-being.
Types of Deep Breathing Exercises
There are several ways you can go about deep breathing in order to reduce stress. They include the following:
- Visualization with deep breathing. This is one of the best ways to decrease stress on the go because it only takes a few seconds to complete the exercise. You consciously relax the tenseness in your shoulders and neck, which is where many people tighten up during stress. Then you take a deep breath and visualize the bottoms of your feet as being holy. Imagine that, through the holes in the bottom of your feet, warm, comforting air is flowing up from the ground to fill up your entire body. The warmth is relaxing and you’ll feel less stress within seconds. Imagine your muscles soaking up the warmth and relaxation under the feeling. Do this several times a day when you feel the most stress.
- Breathe with a stuffed animal. This exercise takes a little bit longer than the one noted above but it can be extremely soothing. The goal is to lie down on a couch or bed and put one hand in the area of your chest. Place your stuffed animal in the middle of your abdomen. Keep your eyes closed and allow your body’s muscles to sequentially relax from the top of your head to the bottoms of your feet. As you breathe deeply through your nose, you’ll need to breathe through your abdomen so that your stuffed animal will rise and fall with each breath. Breathe in a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds, and slowly breathe out. Try this for about twenty breaths and repeat throughout the day when you feel the most stressed out.
- Escape breathing. This is similar to visualization breathing but, instead of visualizing holes in the bottom of your sleep, you “escape” into your mind by seeing yourself in a calm and serene place. Use all your senses to imagine yourself in this place. Breathe deeply and imagine yourself as calm as possible in some other place than where you are actually at. Visualize a beach with the crashing waves of the ocean, the forest with its rustling leaves and the sounds of birds, or in a meadow, where the wind is blowing serenely on your face as you breathe in deeply.
Fitting Deep Breathing into your Day
Even though your day may be hectic, you need to find time to de-stress and relax. Here are some helpful tips:
- Do the deep breathing exercises while engaged in other daily activities. You can practice deep breathing while stuck in traffic, while waiting for an appointment, and while sitting on the train or bus. You can even do deep breathing while walking around, such as walking at your job, walking to where you have parked your car, and doing chores.
- Try to set the same time of the day in which you will practice deep breathing. If you can fit in one to two deep breathing sessions per day, you will be able to concentrate better with less stress throughout the rest of your day. Try to have one breathing technique in the morning and one just as you are going to bed. This will allow you to de-stress so that you can start your day stress-free and end your day stress-free.
- Practice mindfulness techniques. Mindfulness is when you use your brain just to notice the world around you without any type of judgment or criticism. This will increase your focus on the here and now so that you aren’t dwelling on past stressors.
- Try to stay awake during deep breathing exercises. While they should be relaxing, deep breathing is not intended for you to go to sleep. Stay alert and try to exercise when you haven’t had a big meal or after you have smoked or taken alcohol. These things might temporarily make you feel better but will interfere with the deep breathing process and you won’t really be able to relax.