Stress is a universal challenge, often lodging itself in our physical and emotional spaces much like an unwelcome guest. Fundamentally, stress is our body’s mechanism for handling pressures, whether they’re emotional, physical, or mental. Instances that disrupt us, like public speaking, near-accidents, job changes, or personal conflicts can all lead to stress. This temporary but intense form of stress can give us symptoms like shallow breathing, insomnia, unease, chest tightness, and digestive issues. Without effective intervention, this temporary stress can shift to the more harmful chronic stress.
This chronic form of stress is a consequence of continuous exposure to situations triggering the release of stress hormones. Our stress response system, also known as the sympathetic nervous system, was vital for dangerous situations, such as facing predators. However, in the modern context, this system often struggles to differentiate between genuine threats and daily pressures. Consistent activation of this system can induce inflammation and contribute to a variety of health issues.
The Silver Lining of Stress
Interestingly, not all stress is detrimental. It has been essential for human development, driving adaptation and progress. Appropriately managed stress can aid us in setting healthy boundaries and can even enhance cognitive performance by bolstering neural connections. A moderate level of stress can bolster our immunity, with stress hormones playing a role in warding off infections. Moreover, overcoming stress fortifies our resilience, a trait evident in societies that have weathered global challenges such as pandemics.
Harnessing Breathwork for Stress Reduction
One of the most effective and accessible tools for stress management is breathwork. While the term “breathwork” has become trendy recently, its benefits are long-standing and scientifically backed. Here are four straightforward breathing exercises that we recommend for effective stress relief:
1. Conscious Breathing: This technique can be practiced anytime and anywhere. Just focus on the natural rhythm of your breathing, feeling the expansion during inhalation and the contraction during exhalation. Recognizing and controlling your breathing can be a potent tool for stress relief.
2. Prolonged Exhalation: This method stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, transitioning the body from a stressed state to one of relaxation. Start by counting to four during both inhalation and exhalation. Gradually extend the exhale to counts of six, seven, or even eight. Practice for at least five minutes.
3. Box Breathing: Highly regarded by professionals like athletes and military personnel, this technique helps ground and refocus. Inhale for a count of four, hold for four, exhale for four, and then hold again for four. Dedicate at least five minutes to this exercise.
4. Cyclic Sighing: A contemporary favorite, just five minutes of cyclic sighing daily can boost positivity more effectively than half an hour of mindfulness. The process involves a gentle inhalation through the nose followed by a pronounced sigh during exhalation. It’s a perfect exercise for moments of solitude or if you’re aiming for some personal space!
At euda, we believe in the transformative power of breathwork. For some guided breathing exercises, have a look at our euda course, “Building Better Habits”, led by Kristy Hocking.