Anyone stressed?

Whoa, I just felt all of the hands whoosh up into the air. Life lately has been anything but stress-free. For me personally, my bucketful of self-care items are getting dusty simply because of the lack of time, and yet I know that I’d benefit from using them more now than perhaps ever before. And we know stress is bad for us, which stresses me out even more, and I find myself needing to get off this self-propagated stress rollercoaster!

Cue…. deep breaths. We’ve all heard the age old saying TAKE A DEEP BREATH! But all breaths are not created equal. And in times of deep stress, I’d urge you to try a breath exercise that has a longer EXHALE than INHALE. Why? It is scientifically proven that breathing this way activates our parasympathetic nervous system and quiets our sympathetic nervous system.

Our sympathetic nerves control our fight-or-flight system, causing our heart rates and breathing to elevate and stress hormones like cortisol to be released. This is super useful when we are face-to-face with a real threat, like being chased by a Siberian Tiger, for example, but less than helpful, and even damaging, when the threat is of the “when is this pandemic going to end?!/ how do I quiet my children?!/ who will win the next election?!” varieties. In fact, too much fight-or-flight response can damage the delicate balance of hormones in your body and lower your immune system.

Our parasympathetic nerves control our rest, relax, and digest responses. When we activate our parasympathetic nervous system, our heart rate and blood pressure lowers, our breathing slows, and we feel more calm and are better able to heal. Who needs more of this? (There go those whooshing raised hands again.)

The easiest way to go parasympathetic is to inhale for a slightly shorter amount of time than exhale. For example, my go-to calming breath starts with an inhale of 2 and an exhale of 4, with a 1 count pause in-between. Now you try:

– To begin, find a comfortable but tall sitting position & close your eyes.
– Inhale through your nose for a count of two.
– Hold the breath for a count of one.
– Exhale through your mouth for a count of four.
– Hold the breath for a count of one.
– Repeat the above for about 5 minutes.

If you want to extend your exhale, go for it. But remember to keep your breath slow and controlled and calm. If you feel any tension or anxiety, try a shorter breath. And if you would rather breath through your mouth the whole time, thats a-ok too.

Here’s to better breathing and a lot less stress in our future,