Stress comes in many different forms and can affect the way you react to your surroundings and your behaviors. A little stress here and there from time to time usually won’t affect you as much as heavy, chronic, everyday stress that not only diminishes your quality of life, but your overall health as well. Chronic stress can cause all kinds of unwanted side effects, from digestive upset to skin breakouts, food cravings, and a weakened immune system, leaving you more prone to getting sick.
The thing about stress is that while it’s an inevitable part of life, it’s how you handle it that matters. The great news is that there are great, natural, coping mechanismsyou can learn to manage your stress levels. This means when life gets crazy, you don’t have to turn into a disheveled, discombobulated and angry person. You can do something about it!
Managing your stress with something calledconscious breathing can serve as an invaluable tool toward combating stress, naturally.
What is Conscious Breathing?
Conscious breathing can be used to help calm and rejuvenate the body. Conscious breathing is exactly as it sounds. It’s being conscious and aware of your breath while being present in the moment. This type of breathing is much different from the regular breaths you take that go unnoticed. Most of us only take very small inhales and even shorter breaths when anxious, nervous, angry or scared. This is because breathing naturally becomes more rapid during periods of stress. This type of breathing, however, does not allow your lungs to fully oxygenate the body, something that needs to happen to promote relaxation. Conscious breathing, on the other hand, allows for a deeper, more free breath. This practice promotes fully oxygenating your organs and tissues, in turn calming that fight or flight response in the body.
People often practice a form of conscious breathing to wind down a yoga sessionand bring additional relaxation to the body.
Conscious breathing is a wonderful way to bring awareness to the present moment and to acknowledge how you are feeling. When you are focusing on just the one breath that is coming in and out of your nose, the stressors of what you didn’t do, should have done and have yet to do, melt away. You are not fixated on future concerns or past disappointments but on the present moment, which is an important focal point when trying to reduce chronic stress. The best part of practicing conscious breathing is that it only takes a couple of deep breaths and a few minutes to feel calmer, rejuvenated, and happier.
How to Practice Conscious Breathing
So, how exactly do you practice conscious breathing? The first thing to know before you get started is you cannot fail at breathing consciously. It can take a little while to get the hang of letting your thoughts quiet. It is very natural for your mind wander, so try not to get frustrated at clearing your thoughts. Just notice them when they pop into your head and return to your breath, in and out.
To get started, you will want to find a comfortable place to sit. If you are at work or in an office, find a quiet place that you can close the door behind you, silence your cell phone, and sit comfortably with your back supported. If you are home, feel free to sit among your favorite pillows or find your favorite spot in the house that is free from distractions
Next, simply take some long and slow deep breaths to begin relaxing your body and calm your chattering mind. Don’t get hung up on how you are breathing, just do what comes naturally to you, breathing in or out through your nose. As you breathe, focus on the inhalations and exhalation, and each breath.
You can turn your attention to your lungs by being conscious of how much oxygen you are bringing to your body. Try placing one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach and as you breathe deeply and rhythmically. Notice how your abdomen lifts as you fill your lungs with air, which is called diaphragmatic breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing is one of the quickest ways to relax your central nervous system and naturally destress.
There are many other ways to practice conscious breathing, and apps you can download on your phone to help guide you through breathing exercises. This is an excellent option for anyone who is new to conscious breathing, and a great way to help unwind from the day and prepare for bed.
How Does Conscious Breathing Help You Manage Stress?
Many scientific studies have determined that practicing deep breathing will yield many health benefits. Conscious breathing, during which you're focused on your breathing and not thinking about stressors, is even more beneficial. Here are some of the ways practicing conscious breathing can help you manage stress.
- Reduce blood pressure
- Steady breathing and heart rate
- Calm racing thoughts
- Fully oxygenate the body which can help you feel energized
- Bring more mental focus and clarity to your day
- Improve sleep
- Reduce anxiety
While breathing may sound so simple, being conscious of your breathing allows you to harness the ability to better manage negative stress levels. Breathing is something that we all take for granted, but when you turn your attention to consciously breathing each day, you will quickly find just how powerful of a tool it is to help you cope with everyday life stressors and to also live a better quality of life. Try practicing conscious breathing during times where you feel challenged and see what it can do for your stress levels and your overall health.