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Breathe! The worst advice for a person under stress
We are all stressed.
Stress is part of life and living and cannot be avoided.
The most common advice given to a loved one or a friend facing a stressful situation is to ‘breathe!’
Somehow, there is a strong belief in the power of a few deep breaths to reduce stress and allow calm to descend. Perhaps the stressed forget to breathe. Or else the act of breathing somehow calms the mind.
Yet, while the advice to ‘take a few deep breaths’ to reduce stress is incorrect, it does start at the right place, which is the act of breathing. Controlled breathing can greatly reduce the feeling of being stressed or overwhelmed.
But one needs to breathe LESS not more.
Regular slow breaths signal your brain that all is well and if done properly, will produce relaxation.
There is a simple controlled breathing technique, which can be used in times of stress to signal your brain that you are OK. It will stimulate the ‘rest and relax’ part of your nervous system and allow you to relax. Done properly, it will lower your anxiety level, drop your blood pressure and reduce your heart rate.
The key is to breathe through your nose and not your mouth.
The technique is based on work by a Ukrainian physiologist, called Konstantin Buteyko, who believed that modern lifestyle and open-mouth breathing leads to higher carbon dioxide levels in the blood. He maintained that higher carbon dioxide levels constrict blood vessels and reduce oxygen levels in places like the hands and feet.
By breathing through your nose, you will lower your carbon dioxide levels, which will warm you up and allow you to think more clearly. Most importantly, this will not affect your oxygen levels, which are normally as high as they can get and will not be affected by breathing a little more or less.
Controlled Breathing Exercise
- Make yourself comfortable
- Close your mouth
- Take a normal, relaxed breath in and out through your nose (don’t breathe deeply) Now hold your breath or block your nose and do a slow mental count down from five to one
- Then unblock your nose and take a gentle breath in and out
- Hold your breath again or block your nose for a slow count of five (NB: if you find this pause difficult, you can reduce or omit the pause, it is important to breathe comfortably)
- Repeat this process for between two to four minutes If you become short of breath, keep breathing gently until you feel comfortable again
Points to Remember
First, I suggest that you breathe through your nose all the time or at least as often as you can manage. Second, do the exercise when you need to de-stress or are about to eat a meal, go to bed, etc.
- You can do this anywhere
- Always breathe through your nose Never take full chest stretching breathes in
- Never force all the air out of your lungs
- You don't have to hold your nose if you don't want to
You can read more detail about this method in my book Banting Sucks