The Secret Weapon
Do you know the stress and anxiety secret weapon? There are a lot of strategies and suggestions for how to reduce stress and overcome anxiety (the Anxiety & Depression Association of America has a great list), but one of the most overlooked and under-appreciated things you can do is breathe. The problem is that many people don't know how or take the time to breathe properly. 🌬️💆♂️💆♀️
There is a great scene in the movie "Everafter" (shout out to Drew Barrymore and her portrayal of Cinderella) where the main character walks into a giant ballroom filled with glaring and judging attendees. All eyes turn to look as she enters the room. She takes a moment, calms herself and says "breathe, just breathe". The scene didn't lock up any Oscars for Barrymore, but the concept is exactly on point. Intentional and mindful breathing are scientifically proven to have a profound impact on reducing stress and anxiety levels. Here's how breathing can be your secret weapon too.
How to breathe 🧘♂️
There's actually a specific way to breathe when you want to calm yourself. By focusing on your breath, you engage your body's relaxation response, calming the nervous system and promoting a sense of well-being. One of the most popular ways to do this is the use the 4-7-8 breathing technique, popularized by Dr. Andrew Weil. It's a simple yet effective method that anyone can follow using these simple steps:
- First, let your lips part. Make a whooshing sound, exhaling completely through your mouth.
- Next, close your lips, inhaling silently through your nose as you count to four in your head.
- Then, for seven seconds, hold your breath.
- Make another whooshing exhale from your mouth for eight seconds.
- Repeat as necessary (you'll usually recognize a difference in your mental state after 5-7 breaths, but do what feels right for you)
Box breathing, where you inhale, hold, exhale, and pause for equal counts, is another popular technique. The key for both is purposefully taking measured beats to inhale, hold and exhale. Take a minute and try it. Or watch this breathing video for a quick example.
Why do the 4-7-8 and box breathing techniques work? 🤷♀️
According to the Harvard Business Review, "When we are in a highly stressed state, our prefrontal cortex — the part of our brain responsible for rational thinking — is impaired, so logic seldom helps to regain control. This can make it hard to think straight with your team. But with breathing techniques, it is possible to gain some mastery over your mind." Proper breathing helps regulate the autonomic nervous system, balancing the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) and parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) responses. This balance promotes relaxation, reduces stress hormones, and fosters a sense of calm. Studies have suggested that slow, deep breathing can lower cortisol levels. Cortisol, known as the stress hormone, can be effectively managed by incorporating techniques that engage the diaphragm and promote relaxation.
How do I get started?
Here are a few steps to get started:
- Pay attention to your breath. It sounds weird at first, but notice how it feels. Recognize what your body is doing - how your lungs fill with air, how your chest raises and then lowers when the air is exhaled.
- Practice diaphragmatic breathing—inhaling deeply into your abdomen.
- Really practice. Good breathing techniques don't come natural to us, so take the time figure out what works for you
- Recognize when you're shallow breathing. Shallow breathing is when you inhale
What other secret weapons are there?
In addition to these breathing techniques, progressive muscle relaxation can be added to release tension. Either way, consistency is paramount to training your body to respond to stress. So be intentional with your breathing and practice. Our clients have found a lot of success by taking time each day - just a few minutes - to remove all distractions and focus on practicing their breathing. While deep breathing is beneficial for relaxation, it's not necessary to do it constantly. Incorporate deep breathing exercises into your routine, especially during stressful moments, to enjoy the calming effects.
With all the ways that you can reduce stress - and there are a ton of products, processes and ideas - one of the easiest and free ways is proper breathing. Remember, the journey to stress relief begins with each intentional breath. Experiment with different techniques to discover what works best for you, and embrace the power of mindful breathing on your path to a calmer, more centered life. 💙 #BreatheWell #StressReliefJourney