It’s all too easy to allow the stresses of the day to get to us. Those seemingly inconsequential anxieties, or ‘micro-stresses’ as they are known, are manageable in isolation, but as the day wears on, they add up and can result in feeling overwhelmed. Micro-stresses can come in many forms: checking your emails before you’re even out of bed and seeing that your client made new demands overnight; listening to the news on the way to work and hearing a troubling story; running for – and missing – the train.
Thankfully, something as simple as altering the way we breathe can help us better manage our stress-load. Dr Belisa Vranich, founder of The Breathing Class, is a clinical psychologist who has worked with firefighters, the military and law enforcement to help with stress reduction. According to her, “breathing is the mind-body connection and, when done correctly, can be both restorative and regenerative. When you are feeling unmotivated or tired, a few minutes of breathing can re-energize you.”
The first thing you should – and shouldn’t – do each day
If you immediately get up and out of bed when you wake, you could be starting the day in defense mode. “When you stand up immediately, your body adopts a kind of brace position, which is bad for your physical and emotional senses.” Instead, says Dr Vranich, “try taking a huge and expansive breath while you are still lying in bed (this type of exaggerated breathing is actually easier when you are supine).” Allow your breath to properly fill your lungs and make your first proper breath of the day a great one.
When something stressful happens
When an incident arises that makes us anxious we feel like a pressurized canister waiting to explode; we tap our feet, our heart races and our breathing gets faster. According to Dr Vranich, before we can tackle our anxiety, we must first expel some pent-up energy. “You have to discharge before you can calm,” she says. “Do some jumping jacks or flutter your lips to rid yourself of excess energy.” With that out of the way, “put one hand on your belly and the other on your chest, directly under your chin. Spread your fingers wide so you are better able to gauge movement. Now, alter your breathing so that the hand on your chest doesn’t move at all and your belly expands, almost in an exaggerated way.” Repeat this for as long as it takes for your heart rate to return to normal.
When your energy is flagging
“Pretend you are blowing out candles: allow the air to flow into your body and with every exhale contract your abs. Not only will this give you an energy boost, but it’s an excellent exercise for your abdominal muscles and digestive system,” says Dr Vranich. “Do this anywhere between 10 to 50 times.”
When you’re feeling down
Try this technique the next time your thoughts veer towards the negative. “Relax your shoulders and close your mind. Concentrate on your breathing and allow your tummy to expand as you inhale and contract as your exhale. While your eyes are closed, imagine you are looking at a beautiful night sky and notice how expansive the landscape is in front of you,” says Dr Vranich.
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