Just in time for the arrival of spring, which often brings milder temperatures, longer days and more sunlight to brighten our moods, April is Stress Awareness Month. What better time to figure out some ways we can relieve the stress we encounter? Don’t you find some days it seem worse than others?
Exercise, of course, is an excellent way to reduce and relieve stress but it isn’t always appropriate to start doing jumping jacks when things get stressful. With that being said, when it is appropriate, performing exercise releases ‘feel good’ endorphins within just eight minutes. Something as simple as going for a brisk walk or breaking out in a dance break can drastically reduce your stress levels and improve your overall mood.
For those occasions where you are restricted and feeling overwhelmed you can try some breathing techniques. They can be performed alone or along with your exercising to help relieve stress.
Breathing Techniques for Relaxation:
Diaphragmatic breathing allows for deeper, fuller breaths and improved oxygen delivery. Here’s how to do it:
- Relax your abdominals slightly. Don’t pull them in too tightly or suck-in your stomach, as this will limit how fully you can breathe.
- Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can, while contracting your abdominal muscles – your stomach should move in as you exhale, and your chest should move very little.
- Continue to inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth, trying to inhale enough each time that it causes your lower abdomen to rise and fall with each breath. Count slowly as you exhale.
This type of breathing exercise is an excellent way to release stress and provide increased oxygen to your body. It is also the preferred technique during intense exercise.
Breathing Techniques During Exercise:
- With exercise, the proper way to breathe is to exhale while exerting the effort, and inhale during the ‘negative’ movement. You’ve probably heard “breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth.” There’s a reason for this: breathing in through the nose allows us to intake more oxygen than we could if we inhaled through the mouth, and exhaling through the mouth allows the exhale to be completed quicker than if it was done through the nose, which then allows for the next inhale to be done sooner. Be sure to never hold your breath, as this increases blood pressure, lowers oxygen levels and causes dizziness or faintness.
- Proper posture and form is also an important factor. When inhaling, the chest expands and straightens your back; therefore, all exercises should be performed with a straight back to ensure the proper form and prevent injuries. The proper muscles can be properly targeted during exercise if you maintain a straight, neutral spine.
- Focusing on proper breathing and posture during exercise also improves the performance of the exercise, increasing the stress-relieving benefits of exercise. A main part of the core area contains the breathing muscles, so it’s important to maintain proper, stabilized posture. The intake of oxygen is then distributed throughout your body, which provides more power to the muscles that you can exert during the performance of exercise. The more power your muscle has, the more improvements you’ll achieve in your overall performance. Maintaining the proper concentration will ensure you don’t set yourself up for an injury. Everything in the body relies on breathing in one way or another, so it’s important in general to maintain a focus on your intake of breath – think about how your breathing changes when you laugh, run up the stairs, get angry or anxious, or are trying to relax before bed.
- Cardiovascular capacity will also be improved with proper breathing techniques. The more air you take in, the more oxygen you get; the more exercise your heart and lungs get, and the better everything in your body is able to perform. Your body will become more efficient and you’ll notice you’re less tired from performing day-to-day activities, thus decreasing your stress.
Excess weight can also contribute to your stress levels. Your body needs two things to convert fat into energy: water and oxygen. The more water and oxygen you take in, the more your body can expel fat, stored water and toxins, which will result in weight loss. Taking in water and breathing properly fuels this process, resulting in quicker and more efficient weight loss. If your body is dehydrated, it can’t get rid of the water it’s retaining. Decreasing water intake and poor breathing habits contribute to a slow metabolism, since the body is trying to hold on to all of the resources it has, which causes production and storage of fat. Improved breathing techniques and water intake will reverse this process by increasing your body’s metabolism.