deep breathing for stress reduction

Do You Do Deep Breathing for Stress Reduction?

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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.

  1. They don’t believe that it’ll help or
  2. 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.

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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?deep breathing for stress reduction

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.

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Here are several modern day situations that qualify as “perceived threats” that trigger the FFF response.

  1. Difficult personal relationships
  2. Stressful work responsibilities such as deadlines, work overload,
  3. Verbal arguments with others and inter-personal conflict
  4. Bad news about your health or the health of loved ones
  5. 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.

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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:

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Tense your whole body for four seconds while inhaling deeply.
  3. Then exhale slowly.
  4. 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.

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  1. I absolutely agree. Breathing is a part of my yoga practice. I breathe every day as a part of my yoga practice. I would not be so sane if I didn’t do this!

    1. Darlene Berkel says:

      Thank you for the comment Lorraine. Breathing as part of yoga or a qigong practice is amazing for stress reduction and relaxation!!! I am learning more and more about qigong and so far I am lovin it. 🙂 You are living proof that breathing as part of a yoga practice WORKS to help you keep your sanity and live a stress-resilient life! Thanks for the inspiration. 🙂

  2. This is such a simple and effective way to deal with stress that it always amazes me how few people use it. That’s where practicing mindfulness is invaluable. You notice when you need to stop and breathe! Thanks for writing.

    1. Darlene Berkel says:

      Thanks a million for the comment Shari. I am working on deepening my breathing practice too. It also does WONDERS to help me fall asleep at night. After a few minutes of deep breathing I slip into a deep sleep and stay asleep most of the night…( until its bathroom time). I also run a 20/30 mindfulness challenge in my Women Beating Chronic Stress Facebook group. It involves doing 20 minutes of mindful meditation for 30 days, and tracking the stress reduction progress along the way! Practicing mindfulness is invaluable for anyone who wants to design and live a stress-resilient life!

  3. Darlene such a great reminder. I can’t tell you how many times I realize I am holding my breath! What’s with that??? Then I take a big breath and slow exhale and just feel the tension relax a bit!

    1. Darlene Berkel says:

      Haralee, with me I find my breathing is normally shallow and short. When I deliberately focus on my breathing and take long, slow breaths in ( 8-10 counts) and then slowly breath out ( 8-10 counts) its amazing how tension disappears and deep calm overtakes my body. Breathing for stress reduction is super effective if you take the time to learn how to do it, and then practice is regularly.

  4. YES! Darlene, great explanation of the stress response, need to reverse it, AND simple practice to make that happen in a stressful moment.

    Using this breathing practice when you’re NOT in a stressful moment also reduces the long-term effects of chronic stress, which can put you at risk for numerous health problems.

    Love it, thank you so much!

    1. Darlene Berkel says:

      Thanks for visiting and for the positive response Stephanie. I am amazed at how effective deep breathing can be for calming my mind and body instantly. I also do deep breathing when I am NOT in a stressful moment and its very good for falling asleep too. So simple, yet so powerful.

  5. So much good info here. I just started yoga a few months ago and much of it has to do with breathing technique. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Darlene Berkel says:

      Yes Marcia, a big part of yoga is indeed breathing technique. I’ve been exploring Qijong and a huge part of that is breathing technique too. Breathing is truly a simple but extraordinarily powerful stress reduction technique…with NO harmful side effects. 🙂

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