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Deep breathing for stress reduction is often cited as an important tool for stress relief.
It can help you to immediately alleviate stress, anxiety, frustration, and anger.
Yet, many women have difficulty practicing deep breathing for stress reduction for two reasons.
- They don’t believe that it’ll help or
- They try once and then don’t try again.
However, as is true for many other things, when it comes to deep breathing for stress reduction: practice makes perfect.
The more you get into a routine of practicing deep breathing for stress reduction, the better you’ll become at doing it.
That will give you the ability to reduce stress, anger, and frustration easier than before.
Why do breathing exercises work to relax our bodies and minds?
The body has two systems within the nervous system: the parasympathetic and the sympathetic nervous system.
Both of these systems contribute to the reasons why deep breathing for stress reduction can calm us down.
Find out how the nature of our physiological systems contributes to the positive effects.
The Fight or Flight Response
Our biological systems have a natural ability to react during times of stress. This is especially so in situations where we’re facing a huge threat. As a matter of survival, humans have always had this ability.
In response to any threat, our body activates the Fight, Flight, or Freeze Response, or FFF reaction.
The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the physical sensations we get when we feel stress, anxiety, or severe anger and frustration.
These can include sweaty palms, increasing heart rate, and faster breathing.
The activation of the FFF response is preparing our bodies to either run, fight the threat, or freeze.
21st Century Perceived Threats
The problem with the activation of the Fight or Flight Response is that it can be activated whenever we perceive that we’re up against a threat – whether we really are facing a threat or not.
Even though we experience negative situations in our lives, this does not necessarily make them a threat to our physical well-being.
Here are several modern day situations that qualify as “perceived threats” that trigger the FFF response.
- Difficult personal relationships
- Stressful work responsibilities such as deadlines, work overload,
- Verbal arguments with others and inter-personal conflict
- Bad news about your health or the health of loved ones
- Financial difficulties, job loss, job insecurity.
Truth is, all of these situations may be emotionally hurtful or painful. However, our body’s nervous system may interpret them as physically threatening.
As such, our bodies activate the natural FFF response to get us ready to fight or run away.
How To Trigger the Opposite Reaction
We have to tell our biological systems that the situations we’re facing don’t require a fight or flight response. We do that by triggering the parasympathetic nervous system.
The parasympathetic nervous system produces the opposite response to the FFF, causing a relaxation response instead.
One other important aspect of the Fight or Flight Response is the way that it diverts your blood flow.
To prepare you to fight or to get ready to run from a perceived threat, blood is diverted away from the brain to the extremities in the body. Specifically, blood is diverted to the arms, legs, hands, and feet.
Deep Breathing For Stress Reduction Reverses This Process
Breathing exercises send the blood supplies back from the extremities (since we’re not concerned with running or fighting) to where it matters most. Where? The areas of the brain that allow us to think, reason, and problem solve.
This is why breathing exercises work to calm us when we experience acute stress, anger, or frustration. Blood is returning to the brain and it becomes easier for us to think.
How to Practice Deep Breathing For Stress Relief
There are several ways in which you can practice deep breathing to relax both your body and mind.
The simplest way to practice deep breathing in times of stress or anger is to:
- Close your eyes.
- Tense your whole body for four seconds while inhaling deeply.
- Then exhale slowly.
- Repeating this three or four times can take you back to a state of relaxation and calm.
The body’s natural ability to fight or flee from a perceived threat is hardwired into our DNA and is still useful today.
However, reversing the process through breathing exercises is important. It places you in a better position to think more clearly and reason about the stress or issue that you’re facing.