Managing Stress Naturally: Diaphragmatic Breathing

What if I told you that to reduce anxiety, alleviate stress, and calm your central nervous system all you had to do was breathe? Does it sound too good to be true? Too simple? Well, it’s not.

In recovery, all of a sudden we are faced with these stressors and feelings that we never before had to deal with. Drugs and alcohol numbed our experiences and subdued our anxieties; getting sober we are thrown back into life without the tools or coping mechanisms to deal with the feelings we suppressed for years on end. When these feelings and anxieties resurface, our stress levels tend to go through the roof. Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as abdominal breathing, is proven to be an excellent way not only to alleviate stress but to improve overall physical and emotional well-being.

So how does it work? Diaphragmatic breathing allows you to breathe deeply with your diaphragm rather than your chest. When contracted in a breath the diaphragm forces the abdomen to expand which causes negative pressure within the chest, forcing air into the lungs and maximizing the amount of oxygen that goes into your bloodstream. It effectively interrupts the body’s “Fight or Flight” response and increases relaxation and feelings of well being.

The majority of people are chest breathers, meaning that the chest does not expand as much as it would with slower, deeper breaths (which in turn causes less oxygen to be pulled into the bloodstream). While chest breathing is inefficient and can be linked to issues with stamina, athletic ability, and even chronic disease, the GOOD news is that breathing can be learned. Just like riding a bicycle, it takes practice. Using and learning proper breathing techniques is one of the most beneficial things that can be done for both short and long term physical and emotional health.

How to do it:

Breathing exercises such as this one should be done twice a day or whenever you find your mind dwelling on upsetting thoughts or when you are experiencing pain.

  • Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. When you take a deep breath in, the hand on the abdomen should rise higher than the one on the chest. This insures that the diaphragm is pulling air into the bases of the lungs.
  • After exhaling through the mouth, take a slow deep breath in through your nose imagining that you are sucking in all the air in the room and hold it for a count of 7 (or as long as you are able, not exceeding 7)
  • Slowly exhale through your mouth for a count of 8. As all the air is released with relaxation, gently contract your abdominal muscles to completely evacuate the remaining air from the lungs. It is important to remember that we deepen respirations not by inhaling more air but through completely exhaling it.
  • Repeat the cycle four more times for a total of 5 deep breaths and try to breathe at a rate of one breath every 10 seconds (or 6 breaths per minute). At this rate our heart rate variability increases which has a positive effect on cardiac health.

Try doing this for a week or two and see how your anxieties and stress levels change. Notice how your body reacts. You may be happily surprised!

–Maya Beth Frank

Sober since 2007, Maya is a mother, wife, and writer for the lifestyle blog ‘My Life As Maya‘. She is also a freelance writer and resident contributor for several other blogs in the fashion, fitness and parenting spheres.

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