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Take a deep breath, relax and say ‘ahhhh.’

Your body’s smart. It knows right away when stress hits. Your muscles tense, and your breathing becomes shallow and rapid. One of the best ways to stop this stress response is to breathe deeply and slowly. It sounds simple, and it is. But most of us don’t breathe deeply under normal circumstances, so here are a few reminders to help you get started.  

Your breathing under stress

The way we breathe dates back to the beginning of time – rapid and shallow breathing and tensed muscles are a response to danger. This prepares their body for optimum performance. But today things are different. While we may experience stress, we’re not facing the same dangers, yet our stress response is the same. So, one way to counteract the stress response is to learn how to breathe deeply and slowly – the opposite of how we breathe when under stress.

How deep breathing works

Deep breathing is not always natural for adults. But we can learn! Most adults breathe from the chest. This is shallower breathing, so less oxygen is taken in with each breath. This forces the blood to move through the system quickly so that enough oxygen gets to the brain and organs. This can result in higher blood pressure.

Breathe like a baby 

Deep breathing has the opposite effect. Watch the way a baby breathes: the area beneath the chest goes in and out. Take some time to practice this kind of breathing each day, especially when you're under stress. You can be sitting, standing or lying down, but it helps to wear loose, comfortable clothing. Begin by breathing in through your nostrils. Count to 5, silently saying the word ”in,” and let your lower abdomen fill with air. Then count to 5, silently saying the word “out,” as you let the air escape through pursed lips. Do this deep breathing for two minutes or more each time. With practice, you will be able to count slowly to 10 or higher. Boost your relaxation by imagining you’re breathing in ocean air, the scent of flowers or forest air.

Deep breathing does all this? 

There are some amazing benefits to regular deep breathing. By helping you let go of tension, deep breathing can relieve headaches, backaches, stomachaches and sleeplessness. It releases the body’s own painkillers, called endorphins, into the system. And it can lower your blood pressure, which is great for your heart. Deep breathing can also allow held-in emotions to come to the surface, so your emotional health benefits. Plus, you can use it anytime, anywhere, whenever you need it. 

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This material provides a general overview of the topic. Health information is not a substitute for diagnosis or treatment by a therapist, physician or other health care professional. Contact a health care professional with any questions or concerns about specific health care needs.