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Stress and Breathing 101

stress-free-woman-relaxing-in-grassEveryone’s heard of it.  Stress.  It’s all around us.  It’s part of everyone’s life.  Stress is the application of some force or pressure to something.  Basically, we need some force or pressure in our lives to get us moving.  Stress also can keep us moving.

Imagine too much force being applied to something.  It bends.  Too much force may cause a permanent distortion.  Or the object may break.  So it is with people.

Think about stress as arousal.   When you have very low levels of arousal, you feel under-stimulated and chances are, you are under-motivated.  You need more stimulation or arousal.  On the other hand, very high levels of arousal will leave you over-stimulated and you feel revved up.

People who find themselves in a state of over-arousal show all the signs of too much stress – at risk of bending or breaking.  They complain of anxiety, tension, fatigue, and other physical symptoms.  Sometimes people who are stressed try to cope with their over-arousal by smoking, eating or drinking too much.  This is likely to add to their problems.  It may feel like stress management to them, but in the long-run, such behaviours merely complicate and add to their high levels of stress.


Stress –  your friend and foe

Let’s take a look at the simple term, `stress’.  It’s not so simple really.  Stress is a word which masks something much more complicated – stress can mean different things to different people and different things to the same person in different situations.

Remember that where there is no stress, there is no life.

Researchers have found that some stress is good for you, but too much isn’t.  Stress is as much about challenge and excitement, as it is about anxiety and burn-out.

Manageable stress is when you feel like you’re able to mobilize your resources and tackle the tasks and problems in your life.  This sort of stress can be `good’ stress – it can be your friend.  It’s stimulating enough to help you to get going and keep going.

`Bad’ stress can be your foe.  This is where an overload of stress produces unpleasant feelings, physical symptoms, fatigue and a feeling of burn-out.

It’s a good idea to think about stress as a powerful servant but a tyrannical master.  Stress can be a rich source of energy, leading to achievement and creativity.  Or it can be a source of corrosion, leaving you feeling empty and exhausted.

Knowing the signs
Ten signs of stress:

  1. irritability
  2. poor memory
  3. muddled thoughts
  4. exhaustion
  5. loss of interest in sex
  6. sleeping problems
  7. low confidence
  8. depression
  9. chronic constipation
  10. fear of social situations

Stressed people feel like there’s been a general downturn in their lives.  There is a feeling of being overwhelmed and a fear of loss of efficiency and lack of motivation.

The most common physical symptoms of stress are:

  1. headache
  2. stomach trouble
  3. lower back pain
  4. tension at the base of the neck
  5. chronic constipation
  6. chest tightness

High levels of stress makes people deeply unhappy, anxious and creates sickness.  People who feel constantly stressed can’t expect to function well in any sphere of their lives.

Settling your nerves
When your body and brain are working harmoniously, you feel calm and relaxed.  You have what’s often referred to as `peace of mind’.  But stress can unsettle your nerves, tax your body, jumble your brain and waste your energy.  And you end up panicky and anxious.

Stressed and anxious? Feeling sick in the stomach? Tight neck muscles? Are you breathing too quickly? Got the horrible feeling you’re going to faint?

Settling your nerves requires you to take over, to take control. You need to master your symptoms. Becoming aware of your breathing is the first step.

Breathing is life. Proper breathing helps settle your nerves. It is an antidote to stress. Of course, everyone breathes, but few of us have good breathing habits. Just watch a child breathing fully and easily and you’ll realize how different your breathing is.

Natural Breathing – try it!

1. Begin by standing or sitting up straight. Watch your posture.
2. Breathe naturally through your nose.
3. As you inhale, you’ll fill your lungs slowly and progressively. First, fill the lower section of your lungs. This will cause your abdomen to move outward to make room for the air. Second, fill the middle part of your lungs. Here, you’ll find that your lower ribs and chest move forward to accommodate the air. Third, fill the upper part of your lungs. As you do so, raise your chest a little and draw in your abdomen to support your lungs.

Make sure you perform these three steps in one smooth, continuous inhalation. With practice, you’ll complete this inhalation in a couple of seconds.

4. Now, hold your breath for a few seconds.
5. Then, as you slowly exhale, pull your abdomen in slightly. This will have the effect of lifting it up slowly as your lungs empty. When you have exhaled completely, relax your abdomen and chest.

Our sedentary and stressful life style has meant we’ve moved away from natural breathing and towards shallow breathing.

Do this exercise whenever you find yourself feeling stressed and tense and breathing shallowly. With practice, natural breathing will become almost automatic.

Now isn’t that good news?
To discover more about de-stressing your life see Stress-Less: Your Guide to Better Living

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