By Trisha Barkley, MSW RSW
Tri-County Mental Health Services
One of the easiest and quickest ways to help calm yourself, when you are feeling stressed and anxious, is to stop and take a few really good deep breaths. You can do this any time, any place. It can instantly help to release the tension that has accumulated in your body in response to the emotional build-up. The muscles start to relax, your heart rate and blood pressure decreases.
Try to shift your focus, if only for a few seconds or minutes, onto your breathing. Be sure to breathe in slowly, (preferably through your nose) taking in lots of air, pause, and then breathe out through your mouth, until your lungs feel completely empty. Allow your body to just let go as you exhale. Repeat five to 10 times, or until you are feeling calmer. Closing your eyes while you are deep breathing will help to relax you even further. Most people find that it helps to put them in a tranquil, more relaxed state. As you become more aware of your breathing, it becomes easier.
To get the best results, put your hand on your stomach to ensure that it is rising and falling as you breathe in and out. This is the diaphragm area, which is the primary breathing muscle. When you breathe in, try to push your stomach muscles out; hold them as you are holding your breath for a few seconds, and then let the stomach muscles relax as you breathe out fully.
Our breath is our life force, with oxygen being the most important nutrient of the body. When you are stressed you tend to take short, rapid, shallow breaths, high up in the chest area. This is referred to as “chest breathing.”When you practice “abdominal breathing,” however, as described above, you take in more oxygen. You take fewer, more effective breaths.
Deep breathing induces a relaxation response in the brain. It is one of the most simple but highly effective relaxation techniques. It is taught to those who suffer from anxiety disorders, including panic disorder and phobias. When someone is experiencing a panic attack some of the symptoms he/she reports includes shortness of breath and feeling light-headed from not breathing properly. Once you learn how to relax your body through deep breathing, many of negative sensations are resolved. You don’t have to however, have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder to reap the benefits that deep breathing can offer.
For more information or to receive the French version of this article, or to seek professional advice, please call 613-932-9940 or 1-800-465-8061. Free, confidential services are available in French and English to residents of Dundas, Stormont and Glengarry through their offices in Winchester, Cornwall and Alexandria.
Keeping Health in Mind is a monthly newspaper column made possible with the help of Seaway News and the clinical staff of Tri-County Mental Health Services, a community program of the Cornwall Community Hospital/Hôpital Communautaire de Cornwall.
By Trisha Barkley, MSW RSW