Place your hand on your chest. Breathe so that you feel your chest moving in and out against your hand.
This is chest breathing, a shallow form of breathing that often occurs as a response to stress. Rapid chest breathing quickly gets oxygen to the muscles so you can fight or run away from whatever is stressing you. Heart rate and blood pressure go up, and you feel anxious.
Now place your hand on your stomach below your waist. Use your abdominal muscles to breathe, so your stomach moves in and out against your hand. This is abdominal breathing or deep breathing, the kind of breathing you did naturally as a baby and still do when you’re asleep or very calm. Slow deep breathing reverses your body’s stress response of anxiety, slows the heart, reduces blood pressure so it is closer to normal and releases endorphins, your body’s natural painkillers.
Compare how you feel after one minute of chest breathing with how you feel after one minute of abdominal breathing. Take some time to practice deep breathing every day, especially when you’re under stress. You can begin by sitting, standing or lying down. It helps to wear loose, comfortable clothes.
Optional: If it feels comfortable, gradually increase the count as you breathe in and out. Slow your breathing down if you become dizzy or lightheaded. You can increase your relaxation if you imagine breathing in ocean air, the scent of flowers or any other pleasant, relaxing scent. Alternatively, imagine peace and well-being flowing in with each breath, and tension, anger and anxiety flowing out.
Try deep breathing the next time you experience a tension headache or backache, sleeplessness or other stress reactions. Set aside some time to do deep breathing each day. As you become more adept, you may find yourself naturally moving into a deep-breathing mode whenever stress arises.