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How to Instantly Reduce Stress & Anxiety: The Power of Breath

November 28, 2017

This is one of my favorite things to talk about!!! And maybe that seems kinda goofy but the practical application of deep breathing is actually really incredible. It helps me reduce my stress/anxiety level, think through problems more effectively, and reminds me to be more present when I exercise, eat meals, and engage with others in social conversations. I wanted to share these thoughts with you because it’s the number one thing I cue and talk about when I train my clients! I’m constantly reminding them to tune in to their breath and to move in sync with their breath as they inhale and exhale. Breath can be utilized in workouts, but it can also be a great tool to keep in your back pocket to use throughout the day when you’re at work, stuck in traffic – you name it!

Alright alright alright so! How is your breathing? Do you ever think about it? Do you find yourself gasping for air in moments throughout the day? Do you tighten/clench your jaw or lift/scrunch your shoulders? Do you struggle to maintain good posture for extended periods of time? Are you totally stressed out?! All of the above!??

Truth is, I can so quickly find myself in many of these categories at the same time. I can feel pressured to conquer the world every single day and like I have to make myself as busy as possible to seem cool or strong or important. But here’s what I’ve found in all my straining and trying and doing! Being busy is not the greatest thing I can aspire to be. There are so many more important things worth being and doing than just simply completing my to do list.

How I go about my day matters. How I handle stress matters. How I treat people matters. It matters because the effects of chronic stress are actually quite detrimental to our health and overall wellbeing. Here’s a simple list of just a few that really stick with me:

The Effects of Chronic Stress Can Lead to… 

  1. A disruption in your hormones, which can lead to acne! Which just stresses you out that much more (great, thanks stress!)
  2. A greater susceptibility to illnesses + colds because of a weakened immune system
  3. Stress eating & making unhealthy food choices, simply because you feel crunched for time or feel the need to comfort yourself with food
  4. A disruption in your sleep cycle (ah, that mind racing, tossing and turning as you’re desperately trying to fall asleep!)
  5. Increased inflammation throughout the body, which can be linked to gut/digestive issues + joint pain + increased production of free radicals + cancer
  6. Weight gain (stress releases a hormone called cortisol, which can cause higher insulin levels, causing you to crave foods higher in sugar + fat. yikes! It’s all connected, people!!)
  7. Migraines + headaches
  8. Poor heart health
  9. Anxiety + Depression (stress reduces the production of serotonin and dopamine, commonly known as the hormones that make you feel happy)

Wow — doesn’t that list stress you out!? Haha, I know it can be really overwhelming BUT HERE’S THE THING. YOU are the one who controls the rate and the depth of your breath.

And what’s even cooler is that if you learn how to control your breath, you will learn how to steady your pace/rhythm as you move throughout the day (#balance!). You will learn how to have grace with yourself when you aren’t as productive as you think you should be. You’ll feel more at ease when you’re stuck in traffic. You’ll have a lil tool that helps you deal with difficult people. And best of all – you’ll make strides towards lowering your overall stress level. And that will result in you lowering all those negative side effects caused by stress. YOU have all the power here! It begins with you. It begins with your breath.

Before I write on, I want you to try a lil something! It’s called the high-low test. You can do it sitting in a chair or lying face up on the ground. Place one hand over your chest and the other on your belly. For a few moments, notice the rise and fall of your hands as you breathe. Which one rises first? Which one rises higher?

Don’t read on yet! Do the test! What do you notice?

Ideally, you would want the hand over your belly to rise first and higher. The hand on your chest will naturally rise cause obviously your lungs are filling up with air when you breathe! Spend a couple of moments feeling what it feels like to fill your belly with air.

Okay, so why breathe from your belly!?

Breathing from the belly activates the diaphragm (think your belly and lower ribs). This diaphragmatic muscle is a part of your deep core! (And now for a lil side rant: your core muscles are made up of more than just 6 pack abs. “Abs” are only one muscle in the whole “core” structure. It’s so super important to build a strong, healthy core and it’s one of the things I focus on the most with my clients.)

When your core fires, the rest of the body stiffens and stabilizes. From a cellular level, breathing from the belly triggers the Parasympathetic Nervous System also known as the “Rest & Digest” system which helps to inhibit the production of hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Breathing properly is incredibly calming and restorative for the body.

When you breathe with just your lungs, your breath will be shallow. Less oxygen will make its way through your nose and to your cells. You need oxygen to produce energy. And you need it to think clearly!

So here’s how to practice deep breathing:

4-7-8 Breathing Technique

A pic of me taking a lil break from work 😉 haha!

This 4-7-8 breathing technique is my go-to when I’m stressed or when I notice tension in my body. I use it lots when my mind is racing as I’m trying to fall asleep, when I’m stuck in traffic, when I’m having a hard time concentrating, or when I feel really uneasy about a situation or conversation. I keep this tool in my back pocket and use it over and over again throughout the day. Try it out!

  • Find a comfy space and close your eyes (or not, if that makes you feel more anxious!)
  • Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds. Nice and controlled. Let air fill your belly.
  • Hold that breath in your belly for 7 seconds.
  • Slowly release all your air out through your mouth for 8 seconds.
  • Repeat as many times as needed 🙂

I found out about this breathing technique from Dr. Andrew Wiel, one of my favorite doctors in the health and wellness world. Click here if you want to watch his instructional video!

Pro Tip: Practice deep breathing next time you are working out! Notice your breath as you lift weights or do cardio. Do you get air from your chest or your belly? Focus on breathing deep from your belly/diaphragm as you move. When you do so, your core will instantly contract, firing stabilizer muscles in the spine to provide a greater amount of support to the rest of the body. This is key when you exercise and especially as you lift heavier and heavier weights. Simply put: a strong core results in a strong body!

I hope this post serves you in great ways. Recognizing my breath and learning how to breathe properly has been a game changer for me. I hope it can be for you too 🙂

Breathing deeply,
Madison

PS: here’s another article for more breathing techniques!

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