April is Stress Awareness month. Stress comes in many forms … relationships, work, finances, loss, change. But the stress response comes in one form … the fight/flight/freeze reaction. And prolonged stress causes a host of body ailments … tight muscles, pain, high blood pressure, allergies, increased risk of illness, stomach ache, headaches, constipation, bladder problems and more.
If you recognize the stress response, there are strategies you can use to counteract it. One modern way to recognize stress is through the Wellbe … this little bracelet monitors your physical state and cues you in to stressors in the moment as they are occurring. The app that goes with it also has stress reducers.
Would you like to own a Wellbe for FREE? This April I’m giving away a Wellbe (the one pictured below) and all you have to do is sign up by clicking HERE!
One big stress reducer is breath. Deep breathing to control stress is taught in Yoga and it’s taught in Navy SEALS training. In honor of Stress Awareness month I’ve included a step-by-step training below on correct diaphragmatic breathing. The respiratory diaphragm is innervated by the Vagus nerve and the vagus nerve is the fight/flight/freeze nerve … by consciously taking a deep diaphragmatic breath, you tell the Vagus nerve to relax, effectively down regulating the stress response from a physiological level.
DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING FOR STRESS RELIEF
You’ve probably heard a lot about breathing for stress management … it’s used in relaxation exercises, it’s used in Yoga … but do you know how to breathe? From the belly, right? Yes! But why?
Use your hands and find the bottom of your rib cage on the sides. Follow your rib cage as it comes upward to your sternum or breastbone.
Now trace your rib cage down again and towards your spine.
There is a muscle that attaches at your rib cage all the way around and goes through the middle of you.
On top of this muscle and within the ribcage is your heart and lungs.
Below this muscle is your stomach, liver, spleen, gall bladder, pancreas and intestines.
This muscle at the bottom of your ribcage is called your diaphragm … or more appropriately, your respiratory diaphragm.
Hold your hand in front of you as if it were an umbrella and you were protecting something from getting wet. This umbrella or mushroom shape is the shape of your diaphragm when it’s relaxed.
When you take a breath in, the diaphragm flattens out. Flatten your hand and then allow it to go back into the umbrella shape again.
The umbrella hand is like your exhale, breathing out.
The flat hand is like your inhale, breathing in.
You could simply breath by mainly using the muscles of your ribcage but you would only be able to breathe shallow (also called chest breathing) and your shoulders would get sore from trying to stay lifted up so your rib muscles could give you a breath. (Your shoulders are supposed to rest relaxed on your ribcage.)
By breathing by flattening out your diaphragm, you are taking in a deep breath all the way to the bottom of your lungs. Let’s try it … take in a deep breath. Did you use your diaphragm or did only your chest rise?
To take a diaphragmatic breath, you have to also relax your lower back and your belly … this allows the diaphragm muscle to flatten out … it kind of massages your organs and helps them work better. So you can’t try to tuck in your gut and take a diaphragmatic breath … it won’t work. It also won’t work if you have tight clothes on.
Let’s try again. Put one hand on the bottom of your rib cage and see you if can breathe down into your diaphragm and get that hand to move. Did it move?
Now take one hand and trace the bottom of your ribs around to your spine and rest the back of your hand on your spine … you’re going to take another diaphragmatic breath and try and make the hand on your back move. Allow your back to relax and expand.
Did it move?
If not, fold alittle forward and try again.
Still having trouble? If so, you might not be fully exhaling. It’s hard to inhale if your lungs are holding stale air in them.
Try this … pretend there is a candle flame in front of you and you are blowing just enough so the candle flame flickers … keep gently blowing on the flame … use all your air and when you think you don’t have any air left to blow, then push your belly in and up to push out the last bit.
Now you’ll automatically take in a breath all the way to the bottom of your lungs … feel how deep that breath went!
Take control of your stress like a Navy SEAL and practice diaphragmatic breathing. Learn to recognize your stress triggers by signing up for my free WellBe give-a-way!