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Breathe Your Way Out Of Chronic Stress

Stress. We all have it. Some of us seem to be more stressed than others. If you are one of those people who are constantly stressed out, this article is for you. Chronic stress can affect every aspect of your life. It can wreak havoc on your personal life and your health. The medical establishment agrees that up to 90% of illnesses and diseases are caused by or exacerbated by stress.

What exactly does stress do? Stress can be good or bad. A little short-lived stress or anxiety can heighten our senses, it triggers the fight or flight response that increases our heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. It shuts down our digestion and moves blood to our muscles so we can better run away from danger or fight our way out of trouble. A little anxiety or stress can cause us to be more focused and we can perform better. After the stressor is gone, our bodies return to homeostasis or our normal relaxed functioning. Stress becomes a problem when we are stressed out for long periods of time. Humans were not made to be under constant stress.

Chronic stress can be defined as a constant feeling of being overwhelmed and under pressure. This can be over weeks, months, or years. Symptoms include:

  • Aches and pains

  • Insomnia

  • Fatigue

  • Being unfocused

  • Brain fog

  • Change in appetite

  • Increased drug or alcohol use

  • Being tearful

  • Feeling short tempered

Studies are showing that chronic stress can cause inflammation that can lead to other conditions. Such conditions include:

  • Heart disease

  • High blood pressure

  • Diabetes

  • Stroke

  • Asthma

  • Inflammatory bowel disease

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

  • Depression.

How do we get into a state of chronic stress? Many things can contribute to it. Our job, our family life, and illnesses either for ourselves or a loved one. When under stress we go into fight or flight mode. Our bodies don't know if the stress is from an annoying co-worker or boss, a high-pressure job, or being chased by a bear. Our body just knows we are under stress and it responds accordingly. When this occurs day after day, the hormones released cause inflammation in all of our tissues. This inflammation can lead to the chronic conditions mentioned above.

Ideally, the way to combat stress is to get rid of the stressor. Unfortunately, that isn't always possible. There are things you can do to help minimize stress and its effects on your body. Meditation has been shown to decrease stress and its effects. You don't have to meditate for a long time. 5 - 10 minutes a day is helpful. And there are many guided meditations or meditation music you can use if you aren't good at sitting quietly. Exercise is also a good way to release stress. Getting outside in nature can be helpful too. I know some of you are saying., "That's great, but I have too much on my plate to find time to meditate or exercise." I get it, and I get that is exactly what a stressed person says. I'm going to give you a solution to that. Ready......

Belly Breathing! It's easy, anyone can do it, and you don't need to find time for it. If I ask you to take a deep breath, you probably will suck in your gut, puff out your chest, your shoulders rise and you will take in a "big" breath. But you aren't taking in a big breath. You are actually breathing shallowly. This is the type of breathing we have when we are in fight or flight mode. Belly breathing has been shown to completely fill your lungs with air. It naturally slows your breathing. And, if you take about 10 belly breaths, you will take your body out of fight or flight mode. Stopping fight or flight will enable your body to return to a state of relaxation. or homeostasis.

How is belly breathing different from our regular breathing? For the chronically stressed person, breathing has become rapid and shallow. Belly breathing is slow. It is a deep breath that fills every part of our lungs. Think of a baby and how they breathe. Their bellies stick out as they inhale and suck in as they exhale. To belly breathe, you take in a long slow breath through your nose. Push out your stomach and let the air fill your lungs from bottom to top. Hold for a second or two and exhale through your mouth, pulling your belly in. Repeat 5-10 times. Give it a try, it will feel awkward at first, but it won't be long until it feels very natural. It can be done while driving, in a meeting, before you go to bed, or anytime you need to relax and de-stress. It's quick, easy, free, and good for you!

If you have questions about belly breathing or other ways to combat stress, contact me. I offer Wellness Coaching, Reflexology, Reiki, Ear Seeds, and Hypnotherapy. All of these can be helpful in your battle against stress.

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