The weekend is our favorite time of the week, and we love to live it by perreando and taking plenty of siestas. Then Sunday night arrives, and all the stress of the week ahead comes in full force. If you find yourself experiencing the Sunday Scaries every week, check out these breathing techniques that will keep you calm, cool, and collected.
If you ever feel like you can’t keep from holding your breath when you’re stressed, then this exercise is for you. 4-7-8 breathing, a technique created by holistic health pioneer Dr. Andrew Weil, turns our tendency to hold our breath into a helpful tool.
With your tongue resting behind your upper front teeth, breathe into the count of four, hold the breath for a count of seven, then exhale for a count of eight. Dr. Weil describes this simple cycle as “a tranquilizer for the nervous system.”
Turns out that you might be breathing the wrong way. Many Americans breathe predominantly through their upper chests instead of breathing deeply through their diaphragms, according to Jack Greene, a California-based holistic health practitioner.
To figure out whether you’re breathing through your chest or your diaphragm, place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Then take a deep breath, and see whether your chest or your belly moves more. Not only does deep diaphragmatic breathing lower stress and anxiety through longer inhales and exhales, but it is also thought to massage your abdominal organs to promote digestion.
If you’re a chest breather, don’t worry! You can learn to breathe through your belly with some mindfulness. Greene suggests lying flat on your back and placing your left hand on your heart and your right hand just below your belly button. Close your eyes and breathe in through your nose while trying to direct the breath into the hand on your belly. Practice this for several cycles of breath.
Rebecca Dennis, author of And Breathe: The Complete Guide to Conscious Breathing for Health and Happiness ($10 on Kindle) explains that learning how to consciously connect to our breath is the trick for harmonizing the mind and feeling more relaxed.
“Breathing is something we all do, and yet, the majority of teenagers and adults let go of their natural ability to breathe fully,” explains Dennis. “We’re actually conditioned early on to control our feelings and emotions, and as a result, our breathing patterns become restricted.”
The key is to bring awareness back to your breath and breathe intentionally, whether you’re sitting down to dinner, exercising, or reading a book on the bus.
“Your brain is constantly streaming data down into your body, and your body is streaming data up to the brain; some of the messages might mislead and take you into ‘fight or flight’ mode by activating the sympathetic nervous system. Conscious breathing can help us rewire and reset our bodies systems.”
Breathwork in its simplest form can, of course, reduce typical stress. And according to Raleigh, NC licensed counselor Connie Omari, owner of the online counseling platform Tech Talk Therapy, it can have even more profound effects on people struggling with anxiety and panic disorders.
“Engaging in breathwork is a great way to reduce anxiety, as it helps the person to gain control. By simply breathing in for four counts and breathing out for four counts, one’s mind becomes distracted from their worry, forcing it to be driven away from the precipitating and worrying event,” Omari explains. “This reinforces that the individual is in control of something (even if it’s just their breath), and therefore they become more empowered to control their thoughts.”
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