This first secret to dealing with stress, provided by Eckhart Tolle in his book, The Power of Now, is both the simplest and the most important tool you will ever learn for handling stress. Deep breathing will rapidly counteract the physiological effects of stress in your body and help you feel better within minutes. It is completely free and will even improve your ability to solve life’s problems!
Here’s a practical suggestion for applying this stress solving secret that I learned from one of my professors in college.
Whenever you feel yourself getting anxious, worried, fearful or stressed about something pause and notice your breathing. It will be rapid and shallow.
Start by thinking, “there is a better way to breathe.”
Then, make sure that the soles of both feet in contact with the floor. Feel the floor or ground beneath your feet. This puts you in greater contact with your body and “grounds” you so you feel more solid and stable.
Next, take a deep breath. As you inhale think, “I am…” and as you exhale think, “…relaxed.”
Repeat this until you start to feel more calm and centered. This can happen in as little as three to four breaths, but you should probably continue for at least ten to twenty breaths.
Here’s what will happen. You will start to feel more relaxed, and your mind will clear. You will find that you are able to cope better with whatever you are experiencing and may even get some clear ideas as to how to proceed.
Here’s why this technique works. Breathing is a bridge between your autonomic nervous system and your central nervous system because the diaphragm is the only muscle that is under both voluntary and involuntary control. This means that the autonomic nervous system can alter our breath, but altering our breathing can also alter the autonomic nervous system.
When we are stressed, our sympathetic nervous system is firing and the parasympathetic nervous system is inhibited. This causes our adrenals to fire off ephinephrine or adrenaline. At the same time, hormones released from the hypothalamus and pituitary are causing a release of cortisol from the adrenals. These cause the physiological changes in our body that we associate with feelings of fear, stress and anxiety.
One of the effects of this stress response is to shut down rational thought, causing us to react instinctively. This allows faster reaction times, which is why we can swerve to avoid an accident or flee from a potential mugger without having to think about it first.
This response is designed to save our lives when we are in actual physical danger, but it doesn’t serve us well when we’re faced with long term problems like debts, lost jobs or struggling relationships. Dealing with these sorts of problems requires clear thinking, not instinctive reaction. In fact, reacting instinctively to these kinds of problems often makes them worse! It’s why we may snap at our spouse or children, or do something self-destructive like getting drunk or binging out on junk food, when we experience stress. Slow, deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system and delivers more oxygen to our brain, which reactivates awareness and clear thinking.
Of course, you probably won’t remember to breathe deeply when you’re actually in a stressful situation (because you’ll be too stressed, right?) so you need to start training yourself to breathe deeply when you aren’t reacting to stress. You do this by spending at least five minutes, twice daily, practicing deep breathing. If you can do it for 10-15 minutes, that’s even better.
Don’t even think, “I don’t have time for this.” You don’t have time NOT to do this. The more difficult your life circumstances are right now, the more important it is that you spend a few minutes each day practicing deep breathing.
To practice deep breathing, lay flat on the floor (use a cushion or mat if you need to) or sit upright (with your back straight but not tense) in a chair. Breathe in and count silently to yourself as you breathe in, “in, two, three, four.” Then breathe out silently counting to the same number, “out, two, three, four.” Make your inhalation time and your exhalation time equal.
Breathe in through the nose and out through the nose. If your nose is plugged, breathe in through your closed teeth and out through your closed teeth.
Breathe from your diaphragm. Your tummy should rise as you breathe in and fall as you breathe out. If you cannot breathe from your diaphragm and have to lift your chest and shoulders to breathe, you have a hiatal hernia. (You can read about this problem and how to correct it in my article, Hiatal Hernia: Hidden Cause of Chronic Illness at www.steven-horne.com.) Practicing deep breathing will calm your nervous system and focus your awareness. It will help you feel better no matter what is going on in your life. It will also make it easier to remember to take a deep breath in stressful situations. Don’t just read about it, start doing it today!
About Steven Horne, RH (AHG)
Steven Horne is a Registered Herbalist with and a past president of the American Herbalist Guild (AHG). He is the author of numerous books and courses on herbs and natural healing and has lectured on this subject all over the world. He is the father of five children, who were all raised on natural remedies. Because he’s learned how to provide primary health care to his children in the home, he’s only had to make three visits to a medical doctor for illnesses with his five children.
Copyright Steven H. Horne
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