Breathe stress away

Breathing techniques for relaxation

The quick-acting relaxation techniques outlines below can be used as ‘first aid’ whenever it is necessary to deal with a stressful situation. As you have probably already realised, breathing tends to hasten when you are stressed. Luckily, the reverse is also true – if you can control your breathing to a normal rate, the effects of the stress are reduced. Amazing but true!

Say, for example, you feel harassed. You are stuck in a long queue with only a few minutes to spare before you should be at work. You have a long hectic day ahead. What happens to your body? Your breathing becomes fast, shallow and irregular. This physical reaction is your body’s way of coping with the short bursts of energy you might need to fight or take flight.

Over the long-term, this kind of breathing can have a detrimental effect on your mind and body. But, by consciously changing your breathing patterns, you can keep cool and clear-headed, even in the most stressful situations.

Practise the breathing exercises listed below – anywhere, any place – on a regular basis to stress-proof yourself and to prevent stress symptoms from developing.

Six point plan for calmer breathing

1. Sit back in a comfortable chair (if this is not possible, shrug your shoulders, and relax your chest as best you can.
2. Concentrate on breathing slowly and deeply. Try to sustain a rhythm and avoid panting.
3. As you breathe in, feel your abdomen rise. Gently count one, two, three.
4. Breath out and slowly let your abdomen fall back to normal. As you do so, count one, two, three.
5. With your lungs empty, pause for a moment for a count of three.
6. Repeat steps 3 to 5 about ten times. When you do this you will discover that your mind calms itself down and that you your immediate feelings of stress diminish.

Guided imagery for relaxation

Relaxation is nature’s own tranquilliser – the production of adrenaline is cut, muscles soften, and the brain switches into soft-peddle mode. One of the easiest ways to restore order to chaos is to conjure up peaceful and relaxing images. If you think that this sounds like an impossible task, or one that seems unlikely to have any effect, you are probably the sort of person who will gain the most from the exercise given below!

Regardless of whether you are working in an office where the telephones never stop ringing or at home looking after screaming children, it is possible to take a ‘time out’. Believe it or not, by practising the ‘guided imagery’ technique you can calm your mind in just a few minutes.

Remember, however, that you cannot force yourself to relax. When practising guided imagery, your mind may be racing with the million and one things you have to do. Do not try to force images into your mind. Instead just allow them to form and be patient – to start with, keep each session short.

• Close your eyes and think back to a place where you have been calm and peaceful. Visualise the surroundings – see the colours, hear the sounds. Allow these images to take you deeper into relaxation.
• Notice how relaxed you feel in this quiet place.
• Allow yourself to feel safe and secure in your own relaxation. Retreat and stay there for as long as you wish.
• When you are ready, open your eyes. Take a few deep breaths and savour that feeling of calmness.

This quiet-place technique can be used instead of a coffee break to recharge your energy levels to give immediate stress relief.

In the next article we’ll learn about instant relaxation techniques.

Seven instant relaxation techniques >>

Text Copyright © Alix Needham
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