Reducing stress with breath

Stress management and reduction have become a big part of health management in current times. Stress is a huge complaint in multiple work places, and it makes sense that on an academic campus it would be a big concern. The deadlines, exams, and fast paced style of the setting add stress and pressure where we may not even expect it. There are many ways to reduce stress including exercise, listening to music, drinking tea, laughter, however, one that may not immediately come to mind is breathing. This may sound like the beginning of a yogi rant about cleansing the lungs of toxins, but before you make that judgement, there is a little bit of truth to that idea. When we are stressed our heart rate and breathing rate increases. Despite that we are breathing more, we have to take shallower breaths so less oxygen gets into the body when breathing rapidly. If less oxygen is going in, less carbon dioxide can leave, and in a sense we are retaining more “toxins” in our blood stream.

The most important part about this change in the body is that if you take control of this system, you can “trick” your body out of the stress response. Our bodies are programed for fight or flight, but the kinds of stress we encounter during our work day cannot be fought or run from. By slowing this breathing rate, the other stress responses and feelings of anxiety can be reduced and calmed. This is why long term stress can be concerning, it keeps the body on high alarm and results in health concerns like high blood pressure. The lungs like any unused organ can become lazy. Hunched postures or lack of exercise can allow the lungs to expand little and still meet the body’s needs. If we stretch and use those lung tissues they will be more available to us when we need them.

Deep breathing, abdominal breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing are all synonymous and translate to stopping those shallow breaths and allowing full deep breaths in. This could be a simple practice to do before beginning work again after your lunch break. Taking a few deep breaths could help clear your mind, and relax your breathing rate. Yoga, Tai Chi, and Pilates are all exercise forms that encourage this deep breathing in their practice, and it is part of the reason why they are recommended to reduce stress.

There are multiple health benefits to deep breathing practices. Some are outlined in this article found in Yoga Journal. Happiness and emotional stability are listed first. I find this fitting because if we are able to lower stress levels and reduce tension we really can find ourselves more calm in our desk or on a yoga mat. Allowing the release of the tense day or a few minutes to just focus on something other than the building work pressures is a practice that could allow the composure we need to remain productive on a busy day.

For more information on how to perform these breathing techniques read here and here. There are a few different methods to try and finding one that fits you and your schedule could save you anxiety down the road.

Breathe easy!

Shannon Gambon

Employee Wellness Intern

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