If you are like many people, you experience stress on a daily basis. This stress can have a cumulative effect, and we become so used to it that we forget what it feels like to not experience chronic stress. Through breathing, we can “pump the breaks” on our stress response and remind our body and mind what it feels like to be calm.
You can communicate with your nervous system through breathing, which is pretty awesome when you think about it. Breath provides a beautifully simple way to help us step out into our body and impact our stress response. By taking slow, deep breaths, we can stimulate the vagus nerve, helping us to decrease stress by activating our parasympathetic nervous system.
One technique to calm your mind and body is to keep your exhale slightly longer than your inhale. Try this exercise:
Get comfortable, and inhale to the count of three. Hold for a moment, and then exhale for five counts. Pause, then repeat. You can modify the length of the breaths; the key to this exercise is that you are creating smooth, even breaths with an exhale that is slightly longer than your inhale.
You don’t have to wait until you are feeling stressed out to try this – practicing this exercise on a regular basis will help to increase your awareness of how your breath influences your experience, and will strengthen your ability to leverage this skill when life gets tough. Practicing mindful breathing regularly can also help to decrease your baseline level of stress.