The legacy of modern human progress has, through innovation and technology, enriched the lives of countless individuals and given humanity a standard of living that would have been unimaginable just a few decades ago. However, most people would agree that they could use a little less stress in their lives.
The most popular solutions to stress falls into two categories: biomedical (the use of drugs to alter brain chemistry) and displacement strategies (techniques that encourage individuals to cope by thinking about things other than the source of the stress or distracting themselves via peripheral activity). Due to the underperformance of mood altering drugs relative to placebos, the biomedical model is becoming obsolete. Likewise, displacement strategies only serve as a temporary solution since they do not attack the root of the problem. But, there is a simple technique that anyone can do anywhere, which has been proven to reduce levels of anxiety and prevent depression: conscious breathing.
When stressed, we are no longer in control of our thoughts and our mind takes over. Stress is, therefore, a psychological condition. Our bodies respond by pumping the cortisol hormone into the bloodstream, which increases the heart rate, quickens breathing, raises blood pressure and tenses muscles. Essentially, our thoughts trigger the sympathetic nervous system (a mechanism, which evolved to quickly mobilize our bodily resources in times of physical danger) and bring us into ‘fight or flight’ mode. Unfortunately, our bodies cannot tell the difference between a real threat and an imaginary one. We are left stuck in a state of perpetual potential physical danger. Prolonged periods of time lived in this state generally lead to various physical and emotional problems. Part of this physical reaction is also the onset of rapid and shallow breathing. By slowing down and deepening your breathing, one can quickly move out of this stress-induced state.
Conscious breathing is the process of bringing awareness into the act of breathing. Whatever may be the reason of the stress, by placing full attention on one’s breathing, it will begin to naturally deepen and slow. “If you want to be more present, more calm, and more focused it [conscience breathing] goes a long way,” says Dr. Elaine Dembe, an inspirational speaker and authority on health, wellness and stress resiliency in Toronto, Canada. The specialist maintains that conscientious connected breathing is the easiest way to take the focus away from stressful thoughts and into the moment.
“Slower breathing psychologically quietens the chatter and thoughts that prevent us from mental clarity, she adds. […] we get as much as 70% of our daily energy from breathing.”
It’s no wonder why so many people report a lack of energy in their daily lives. But, Dr. Dembe has a technique that can help anyone get started with conscience breathing. By using this method, anyone can feel more energetic, alive and grounded, according to the doctor.
– Take a deep breath in through your nose to a mental count of 4.
– Hold your breath while counting to 7.
– Exhale completely through your mouth to a count of 8.
– This is one breath. Now, inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for four breaths.
The doctor’s advice is to practice this exercise whenever one begins to feel stressed. “Afterwards, you may continue to focus on your breathing but do not count any longer. Eventually, even give up intentionally focusing on the breath, she explains. You may continue to be aware of it, but this happens without intention. Your attention may rest on other things and only party on breathing. You are mindful of it, yet free of it.”
Article by Luka Vuk. Originally published in 2014. Updated in 2016.