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Abdominal Breathing For Stress Relief
The Ways We Breath
Notice how you are breathing right now. Are you breathing into your chest or into your abdomen? The way we breath is directly related to the level of stress and tension in our bodies.
Shallow, Chest-Level Breathing
People who are stressed out or experiencing anxiety are likely to breath high in their chest, taking short, shallow breaths. More tension is held in the muscles in your back, shoulders and neck when you breath from your chest, thereby escalating the physical symptoms of anxiety and stress.
Many people who frequently breath from their chests tend to over-breath or hyperventilate. This occurs when you exhale too much carbon dioxide in relation to how much oxygen is in your blood stream. Symptoms of hyperventilation include:
• Feeling nervous and edgy, caused by increased alkalinity of nerve cells
• Heart beats harder and faster, lights seem brighter and sounds seem louder due to too much carbon dioxide in the blood
• Feelings of separateness from your body, dizziness and disorientation caused by constriction of blood vessels in the brain
Not to worry, my friends! It is fairly simple to retrain your breathing and sustainably decrease your stress levels.
Benefits of Abdominal Breathing
• Increased oxygen supply to the brain and muscles
• Promotes a state of calmness by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system.
• Brings awareness to your body.
• More toxins are released through the lungs
• Improves concentration by quieting the mind
• Triggers deep relaxation
Practice Abdominal Breathing
Try to stay aware of your breathing. It might be helpful to set a reminder for yourself every couple of hours to make sure you're not breathing from your chest. If you live with a friend or partner, ask them to remind you to breath from your abdomen periodically. These reminders will only be necessary at first, while you are forming the habit. I've included an exercise below, adapted from Edmund J. Bourne's, The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook, to help you change your breathing pattern in a short period of time.
Abdominal Breathing Exercise
1. Bring your awareness to your body, focus on any tension you feel and place your hand on your stomach, just below the rib cage.
2. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose into the "bottom" of your lungs - in other words, send the air as low down as you can. Your hand should actually rise. Your chest should move only slightly while your abdomen expands.
3. When you've taken in a full breath, pause for a beat and then exhale slowly. As you exhale, allow your whole body to let go and release the tension in your muscles.
4. Do ten slow, full abdominal breaths. Try to keep your breathing smooth and regular.
5. Extend the exercise if you wish by doing two or three "sets" of abdominal breaths, remembering to count up to ten for each set.