It’s one of the most powerful ways to manage stress
Stress is our country’s #1 killer—underlying and exacerbating conditions from hypertension and heart disease to diabetes and Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). That’s why it’s imperative that we learn to manage our stress. We can’t necessarily stop the onslaught of stressful situations and messages (though we can reduce them), but we can learn to neutralize their health impacts.
One of the most powerful techniques is simply to practice mindful breathing.
This simply means taking long, slow breaths through your nose—a deep inhale, followed by a long, slow exhale. This practice can be done anywhere, at any time you are feeling anxious, agitated, angry, or stressed. You might tack a sticky-note to your computer, or set an alarm to go off on your phone every hour, reminding you to take a minute to breathe. Long, slow breathing is also a great way to help yourself fall asleep.
Breathing through the nose is essential. Stress triggers our body’s sympathetic nervous system—the one that activates our “fight or flight” response. While we’re in “fight or flight” mode, normal bodily repair and restoration functions are curtailed, or shut down entirely, saving energy to respond to danger. This is not healthy as a chronic condition. Our body’s deferred repair and restoration activities eventually catch up with us.
However, research shows that long, slow nasal breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the operating system responsible for normal body repair and maintenance functions, including digestion, mood, sleep, and cardiovascular and mental health. At the same time, when the parasympathetic nervous system is operating, the sympathetic nervous system—which keeps us in “fight or flight” mode—shuts down. You can’t digest your food and be primed for danger at the same time.
So my wish for you this year is that you take up the practice of mindful breathing. Every time you think of it, enjoy taking a long, slow, deep breath through your nose. Step away from your desk. Pause and look around you. It’s a personal way of practicing peace on Earth. Starting with you.
Wishing you all the best in 2019 and beyond!