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Relieve Stress With Just A Breath

June 25, 2011

Breathing | Rolando Mathias | a day ago

What’s the most complex bodily function that requires no attention or thought? Ding, ding, ding! Breathing it is. But don’t be fooled— this involuntary action is actually quite complex.Research shows that a few simple tweaks to the way we breathe can actually improve health [1] and even reduce stress levels [2].

Take a Breather, Champ! — The Need-To-Know

Slow, deep breathing utilizing the diaphragm and abdomen causes heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure to drop it like it’s hot [3]. Quick, shallow breathing using the upper chest does not. One study found that for people with hypertension, deep breathing techniques caused a drop in blood pressure and relaxed the body [4].

Another study reinforced these conclusions and found that slower breathing bolstered the parasympathetic system’s strength over the sympathetic [5]. Para-what now? The parasympathetic system is responsible for relaxation, while the sympathetic system is responsible for the fight-or-flight response. So, calm breathing can boost relaxation and calm quick-trigger reactions.

Also supporting the “deep breath, relieve stress” mantra, one study found cortisol, an immune-suppressing hormone released in response to stress, is also affected by breathing. The levels of this stress-induced hormone were significantly lower in subjects who practiced slow breathing, suggesting the breathing technique chemically reduced feelings of stress in the subjects’ bodies [6].

Better Breathing — Your Action Plan

Incorporating slow, deep diaphragmatic breathing requires effort, but it’s like riding a bicycle: get used to it, and it becomes natural. The quick how-to guide? With each inhale, allow the abdomen and rib cage to expand as the lungs fill with air. Exhale, allowing— but not forcing— the air to completely leave the lungs. Rinse and repeat. A good first step is to practice this breathing technique for 10 minutes each day to help the body adjust. Before long, it’ll be second nature!

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