When you're stressed it helps to stop, take a time out and just breathe. When you're tense, you tend to dispatch all of your energy to your neck and shoulders, which explains why those muscles have knots the size of your fist in them most of the time and why you feel out of breath when you're stressing. Taking control of your breathing will help control the stress and improve your health in the long run.
Effects of Stress
Tight muscles and a pain in the neck aren't the only effects stress has on your body. The Mayo Clinic reports that stress can affect your body, your mood and even your behavior. Initially, tense situations might give you a headache, upset your stomach or make it difficult to sleep. If you don't deal with stress it can lead to much more serious physical problems like high blood pressure and heart disease. Stress can cause anxiety, irritability and depression, and can drive you to angry outbursts or lead to the use of drugs or alcohol. Not taking steps to reduce or eliminate stress can even affect your weight, destroying your appetite and causing weight loss or compelling you to overeat, causing weight gain.
Breathing Out the Tension
It might sound too simple to be effective, but the basic act of breathing can go a long way to reduce stress. The 4-7-8 breathing technique is easy to learn and is a valuable tool to have when a stressful situation threatens to push you over the edge. Start by sitting in a relaxed but upright position with your back and neck straight and your head up, facing forward. You can choose to perform this exercise either with your eyes open or closed. Slowly breathe in through your nose for a count of four. Hold the breath in as you slowly count to seven, then slowly exhale through your mouth as you count to eight. As a stress reliever, do this three or four times in a row. You can perform the 4-7-8 breathing exercise on a regular basis to keep tension at bay. In their paper on Dyspnea, RN's Dana Inzeo, Diane Paolilli, Kim Plastini and Leslie Tyson recommend going through four repetitions of the exercise up to 10 times per day.
Benefits of Breathing Exercises
Breathing itself is a fundamental involuntary action necessary for you to live, but all too often people don't breathe deeply or purposefully, only drawing in enough air to get them to the next breath. Learning how to breathe deeply does more than just reduce stress; it fills up your lungs, strengthening your diaphragm, bringing ample oxygen into your body to nourish all of your cells and pushing out poisonous carbon dioxide. Deep breathing exercises also help improve respiratory issues like asthma, bronchitis or emphysema.
Additional Stress Reducing Techniques
If you've already accepted stress as part of your everyday life, it's not too late to reverse that decision as well as the effects stress is causing you. Deep breathing is a useful foundational tool that can be employed when integrating other stress-reducing techniques. The Harvard Health website lists progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, prayer, yoga, tai chi and Qi Gong as effective stress-reducing activities. Recognizing the issues and situations that bring on the tension and dealing with them proactively through breathing and other techniques will make you feel better and improve your overall health.
- Shortness of Breath (Dyspnea); Dana Inzeo, RN, Diane Paolilli, RN, Kim Plastini, RN and Leslie Tyson, RN
- Integrative Rheumatology; Randy Horwitz and Daniel Muller
- The Complete Idiot's Guide to Divining the Future; Laura Scott, Mary Kay Linge and Deborah S. Romaine
- Mayo Clinic: Stress Symptoms
- Harvard Health: Relaxation Techniques
Elle Di Jensen has been a writer and editor since 1990. She began working in the fitness industry in 1987, and her experience includes editing and publishing a workout manual. She has an extended family of pets, including special needs animals. Jensen attended Idaho and Boise State Universities. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications.