Breathwork for stress relief

Deep breathing is the easiest and most effective way to reduce stress.

Stress begins in the mind and has ramifications throughout the body. The stress response increases heart rate and blood pressure, releases hormones (adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol), diverts blood flow from nonessential functions (like digestion) to the muscles to prepare for “fight or flight,” and makes breathing rapid and shallow. We may not be able to directly control heart rate, blood pressure, hormone release, or where our blood is channeled. But we can control our breathing. It’s the only function we do either completely consciously or completely unconsciously. It’s the one area of overlap, because two different sets of muscles and nerves control voluntary and involuntary breathing.

The mind and the body are connected. How we breathe both reflects the state of the nervous system and influences the state of the nervous system. It is impossible to feel stressed when your breathing is regular and slow. Deep breathing is the easiest and most effective way to reduce stress.

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The Relaxation Response

The stress response protects us; it is a physiological chain of events that prepares us to either run or fight in the face of danger. It activates the sympathetic nervous system and increases respiration, heart rate, serum cholesterol, blood pressure, blood flow to the muscles, and metabolism. However, there is a problem: lifestyles today present almost constant hassles that trigger the stress response, but the fight or flight options are no longer appropriate in many situations. Can you run from or fight with a deadline at work? Or a few hundred emails? Or a hectic family schedule? We get little or no time to relax and restore ourselves.

Over the long term, chronic low level stress is harmful. In fact, Lazarus, DeLongis and other researchers determined that life’s everyday hassles do more harm than major life changes. The stress response seems to have backfired.

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