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Breathing Exercise to Reduce Stress

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Stopping the downward spiral

We can’t think of options and alternatives when we’re under high levels of stress – in fact, we can’t think at all.

Only when some of that stress has been reduced can we put on our thinking cap, challenge our fears, and look for ways to go beyond survival.

Ruminating over your problems may be the only way you know how to cope with stress at first. You may continue to argue your point of view… “You just don’t understand. I followed instructions. I took classes to learn. All I hear from everyone, is why don’t you do this or that, as if I haven’t already tried that and more.”

When you’re on a survival merry-go-round, you can’t think of anything constructive. You blame yourself or others for feeling out of control.

Unresolved issues from your past can keep you in survival mode. The current pandemic may have put you in a tailspin. Being isolated takes a toll. You may be anxious about the COVID vaccine. There is a lot you have little control over. But you can change how you respond.

Lowering stress and tension

The first thing in reducing stress and tension is to replace shallow breathing with slow, even breathing.

Shallow breathing is short breaths originating in the chest. This type of breathing reduces the amount of oxygen needed by the body.

When feeling panic and fear, our breathing becomes more rapid and shallow. To lower feelings of panic, fear, or anxiety and reduce tension, breathe slowly and evenly from the diaphragm.

Deep breathing exercise

The purpose of this exercise is to calm your mind and body so you can function, think, and solve problems.

  • Find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed.
  • Sit or lie down.
  • Focus on your breathing. Is it fast and shallow, originating in the chest area?
  • Put your hands on your abdomen, or stomach area, and then take some slow, deep breaths, concentrating on using your abdominal muscles.
  • As you breathe in slowly, count to three, and as you exhale, do the same, count to three.
  • Feel your abdomen rise and fall.

If frantic thoughts intrude during this exercise, don’t try to stop them. Instead, re-direct your attention to your breathing. Continue this calming breathing until your mind begins to relax, your heartbeat calms, and you feel your tension drain away.

Sit with this calmness for a while and listen to that quiet voice deep inside you that has been drowned out by anxiety. It has been trying to get your attention for a long time. You will be all right. You can make it. Reflect calmly on what keeps you stressed, anxious or fearful. Just reflect for now. Later we will look for solutions.

Do this calming, breathing exercise several times a day until it becomes a habit. Any new habit requires consistent and repeated practice. Then, whenever you feel your stress levels rise, stop, breathe slowly, deeply, and calmly.

Starting over

As you begin your journey out of survival, focus on possibilities for where you can go from here. Don’t keep thinking about what you haven’t done or didn’t do.

Don’t compare yourself with others who you might think are more successful.

You are not denying the problems you face or minimizing the magnitude of their impact on your life. You are gaining a new perspective on how to deal with problems for optimum results.

When anxiety levels are lowered and your mind has calmed, you can re-assess, re-evaluate and focus on what you want to accomplish in the future.

What is the first step towards a new beginning?

These early goals should include not only deep, calming breathing, but reminding yourself that you are capable and can make it.

Here are some things to include in that first step beyond survival and high stress.

  1. Laughter and humor. Find something to laugh at every day. It is both healing to the body and brain, but also expands your outlook.
  2. Gratitude and blessings. Make a list of things you can be thankful or grateful for. Add to that list every day. Read that list every day.
  3. Find a support system – a good friend who can laugh and talk with you. Find a support group you can join.
  4. Find something you enjoy doing and begin working on those projects.
  5. Ask God to walk with you and give you strength, comfort, and wisdom.

This is a pivotal time in your life. You can’t recover what was lost or return to what had been. But as you accept and stop fighting, you can pick up the pieces and put them together in a new picture of possibility and success.

Stepping into that new space allows you to build on that kernel of hope.

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