The holidays can be one of the most stressful times of the year. Financial pressures and family commitments can make the whole thing seem a little overwhelming.
I personally get very stressed when traveling at Christmas, so I’m always looking for calming techniques that can help me manage my travels. I don’t meditate every day because I find it too time-consuming, but sometimes I turn to short breathing exercises to help with anxiety.
“Breathing can be an effective tool for managing stress by affecting the body’s physiological and psychological reactions,” says Psychotherapist and breathing teacher Carolyn Cowan.
– Slowing down and deepening your breathing signals to the body that it is safe, reduces the strength of the stress response and lowers the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Cowan has compiled a three-minute workout Fit well readers to try, which should help you stay calm during the party. In his own words, “it can be done anywhere, even in the bathroom, on the bus, at the desk.”
I decided to try it on a busy day at work to see if it could help me manage my stress levels.
Stretching before breathing
“The first thing to do before any breathing exercise is to stretch,” says Cowan. “Stretching the body is a key part of breathing work and that’s where the magic happens.”
He recommends standing and stretching your arms out to the sides, taking deep breaths and breathing into your belly. You can also lift your chin and open your mouth, sticking out your tongue.
If you’re doing a breathing exercise in public and need a more subtle movement, do a shrug instead. To do this, inhale for five seconds and slowly roll your shoulders up, then exhale for five seconds and roll your shoulders down. You can also try alternating rotating shoulders for another minute. Make sure you finally inhale and raise both shoulders high, almost to your ears, then exhale and let them drop.
When you’re done stretching, find a comfortable seat, set a timer for three to five minutes (preferably with a gentle alarm sound), and follow the instructions below.
How to do a three-minute breathing exercise
Breathe slowly through pursed lips for five seconds, releasing your stomach.
Hold your breath for a second.
Exhale quickly and lightly through your nose.
Repeat the above steps until the timer goes off.
When the timer goes off, inhale, hold your breath and briefly tense all your muscles.
Breathe out and relax.
It’s important to expand the abdomen during inhalation, as Cowan says this helps expand lung capacity and lower the diaphragm. Diaphragmatic breathing is an important part of breathing exercises like this because it actually helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s relaxation response. It acts as a counterweight to the “fight or flight” response triggered by stressful situations.
Cowan also recommends lengthening your inhales and exhales, if you feel comfortable, until each is about eight or 10 seconds long.
After the session, take a few minutes to observe your calmer mind before returning to the hustle and bustle. And if you feel your stress level rising again later, “you can do this breathing exercise as many times as needed per day,” says Cowan.
Here’s what I noticed after trying the session.
1. I felt calmer
It takes three minutes right rest did wonders for my stressed mind. I spent these three minutes consciously trying to bring my thoughts back to my body and focus on my breathing, which helped me feel calmer.
I will definitely be using this technique during the holidays if I’m feeling overwhelmed and need to get away from the festivities.
2. It calmed my digestion
I have digestive issues that are exacerbated by anxiety, so it’s not unusual for me to feel stressed and fights against a bubbling stomach.
After this exercise, the nausea that I carry with me most days eased and I found myself able to concentrate better.
I’m not sure if this was the physical release of my stomach or if focusing on my breathing took away the nausea. Anyway, the bubbling stomach was less bubbling after I had taken three minutes to breathe.
3. I felt more aware
From my day forward, I felt more grounded and connected to my body; in short, more aware. I was better able to focus on what I was doing without thinking about the millions of things I still had in front of me, which usually make my mind spin.
Instead, I paid attention to what I was doing with my hands, I remained aware of my breathing and my body even after the breathing exercise.
Looking for more ways to relax? Read our guide to meditation or staying active with mindful walking
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