How Breathing Exercises Can Help You Deal With Stress
These are stressful times, and more than ever, we think it's important that everyone has some strategies up their sleeve for dealing with tense feelings and difficult emotions.
Isolation can put a lot of pressure on a person, but thankfully, we spoke with meditation expert Josephine Atluri about one of our favorite stress-busting methods—breathing exercises. She walked us through what they are, why they're so important and how to master them, and we think the advice she shared is invaluable.
(Image courtesy of Josephine Atluri)
Sweety High: What are breathing techniques, and why are they effective for combating stress?
Josephine Atluri: Breathing techniques are simple variations in your breathing pattern that allow you to focus on your breath and your body, and help you reduce your stress levels.
Slow breathing combats stress because it tells your body that you're shifting from stress to relaxation. Stress triggers our fight or flight response, which releases hormones in our body that can have negative effects on us. For example, when we get stressed out, we can feel our hearts racing and our blood pressure starts to rise. We may even get sweaty and feel our chest tighten. When we interrupt this pattern by breathing slowly, we are telling our bodies that we are safe so that the hormonal stress response can stop.
Plus, when we focus on our breathing we are taking our minds off of whatever is stressing us out which also tells our body that our focus is no longer on whatever stressed us out in the first place.
SH: What are some of your favorite breathing techniques for grounding yourself during difficult times?
JA: One breathing technique I love involves timing your breath and pausing. Begin by breathing in as slowly as possible, and when you can no longer take in any more air, hold your breath for a few seconds. Then breathe out as slowly as possible, and when you can no longer exhale air, hold your breath again for a few seconds. Repeat this pattern for as many times as you need in order to feel calm.
Another breathing pattern I love to use is the continuous breath. In this technique, your inhale flows directly into your exhale without any pause. You can visualize an infinity sign and imagine your breath is following that flowing pattern.
SH: What should we do if we get distracted while we're practicing a breathing technique?
JA: Our minds have between 60,000 and 80,000 thoughts happening during any given day, so it is perfectly okay for thoughts, sounds and sensations to interrupt our focus on our breath. Don't fight it! Instead, acknowledge whatever it is that pops into your mind and then allow it to float back out of your mind for you to deal with later. Then return back to the breath pattern that you were doing to ground you back into the present moment. If you need a little extra support to anchor back to the breath, place your hand on your belly or chest or both and witness how the breath is flowing into those spots.
SH: What else should we all know about breathing techniques?
JA: You definitely do not need to be in a meditation in order to incorporate breathing as a coping strategy for stress. You can do it anywhere at any time. If you're in the middle of a heated discussion with someone, that's a great time to practice your breathing! You can still be right there in the discussion, but instead of focusing on the negativity of the conversation, you can witness your breath instead. Then, when you return to the conversation you will return in a calmer, more mindful manner versus being reactive and emotional. Breathing is such a great tool because you can break it out any time you need it and instantly feel calmer than when you started.
SH: If we're interested in meditation as a countermeasure against stress, what tips do you have?
JA: Start off just a couple of minutes a day and make it your own. By starting off just a few minutes a day, you make it very easy to squeeze it into your schedule. Meditation does not have to be a very strict practice of X number of minutes a day using only mantras and sitting in the perfect pose. Rather, the point of meditation is to be aware of yourself in the present moment. That's all. So that means you can do it anywhere and in any way that feels most comfortable to you—sit or lie down, do it in your car or your bathroom. Just do the best that you can with your resources and adjust to find comfort.
Think guided meditation might be more your speed? Every Wednesday until the end of April, Josephine will host a free 15-minute meditation livestream on Zoom. Click HERE for an invitation to join.
Not sold on the power of mindfulness? Click HERE to hear from a psychologist about why it's so good for fighting stress.