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Relaxation Techniques, Part 2: Deep Breathing

The relaxation techniques I will share with you look simple. You might be skeptical that they can make a difference. If you wait to try one until you are in the middle of an actual emergency or a situation that is highly stressful, you will likely not be impressed at how it works. These relaxation techniques are skills and, like any other skills, improve with practice. If you wanted to learn to play the saxophone, would you have better luck practicing when you were calm and rested (or at least as rested as you can be, if you suffer from a sleeping problem) or when you were sick or in the middle of moving or in a crisis at work? It’s the same with these skills. You want to practice and master them in calm times, times when you aren’t counting on them to pull you through. Then, as you master them, you will be able to put them into practice in the midst of a crisis and find that they do, indeed help. I have seen simple deep breathing take someone from absolute hysteria to calm enough to listen and talk. That’s powerful. (Note: If you feel like you don’t ever have calm times, then try to practice these techniques at times when your stress level is at what passes for a lower level for you).

You will find many variations of instructions for how to do deep breathing. Some will tell you to inhale for 4 seconds and exhale for 6, for example. Others may say 5 and 5 or different numbers. I don’t want you to get hung up on the numbers, so let’s say count to at least 4 each time you are breathing in and each time you exhale. But do what feels comfortable to you. If you are breathing rapidly and shallowly because you are anxious, 4 may be all you feel you can do. Breathe in through your nose and out through your lips. Do this for a full minute or two. Ideally, you will want to do 5-10 minutes in order to really feel the results.

My recommendation is that you set an alarm on your phone to remind you once a day (twice would be better!) to find a quiet place to practice your deep breathing. Doing this will begin to help you reset your nervous system, interrupting the stress cycle. Once you have practiced this for a week or two and notice the results, you can begin trying it whenever you notice your anxiety or stress levels climbing. Try noting what this level is (for example, a 7 on a 10-point scale where zero is no stress) before you do your deep breathing. Once you are finished with your deep breathing, check the level again. Hopefully you will see that it is now lower than it was when you started the deep breathing. But don’t give up if it’s not. Most skills are not mastered quickly. Practice will improve its effectiveness.

I like this technique because it’s powerful, it’s quick, and you can do it anywhere at any time and no fancy equipment is needed. Even if you can only take 30 seconds out for some deep breathing, that still helps you put a brake on the stress response. And speaking of brakes, if you have a commute, red lights could be a reminder to you to practice taking several deep breaths while you wait to resume driving!

Once you have mastered this technique, you can use it to fight your chronic pain, your insomnia, or your anxiety and worries. If you don’t have those issues, my guess is you still have your full share of stress and you can use this technique to combat your stress.

Give this a try and let me know how it goes for you. Was your “after” stress or tension level lower than before you did your deep breathing? I would love to hear your experiences. I won’t post them but I promise to read every single response you send me.

If you struggle with stress or conditions that are aggravated by stress (such as insomnia, anxiety, and chronic pain), give me a call at (816) 226-4678. We can develop a treatment plan to help you cope with the stress and improve the issues you are dealing with.

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