Stressed Out? Breathe Easier with Relaxation Exercises
Submitted by Organizational Champion, Keene State College Dietetic Internship
Stress comes in many forms, like pre-game butterflies, deadline anxiety, a commuter’s clenched teeth, or relationship jitters. It’s impossible to avoid, but you can ease any type of stress by learning techniques that you can do anywhere.
Sports and leisure activities can help ease tension, but regular physical exercise usually doesn’t lead to whole-body relaxation. Achieving complete, therapeutic relaxation means practicing easy to learn skills that calm your entire body and brain.
Whole body relaxation comes from focusing on an internal process such as breathing. When you focus inward, your body gets messages that you are safe and secure. Muscles relax, blood pressure falls, nerves are calmed, and anxiety decreases.
The simplest, most available stress reliever is the air we breathe. Relaxation breathing is elegantly simple, yet it quickly produces deep relaxation.
To practice relaxation breathing, close your eyes and then:
- Inhale naturally through your nose.
- Exhale naturally through your nose.
- Pause without holding your breath and slowly count to three. During this pause, allow your exhalation to come to a natural forced end.
- Repeat as many times as necessary for you to feel calm and ready to face your stressor.
As you breathe, try to keep your eyes closed and looking down, as if you were looking at your lower eyelids. Your eyes will tend to look up each time you inhale; try to resist this tendency. Notice how your eye position affects your awareness, calmness, and ability to relax. If contact lenses make it uncomfortable to look down, try to look straight ahead with closed eyes.
Breathe through your nose when possible, and don’t try to inhale deeply or breathe slowly. Simply follow your own natural rhythm. If you can’t ignore the urge to breathe deeply, just do it once, and then go back to your natural pattern. Let your stomach and chest expand with each breath.
Most people habitually exhale incompletely, starting each inhalation without allowing all the air from the previous breath escape. With relaxation breathing, you pause before inhaling to allow yourself to exhale spontaneously and fully. Complete, unforced exhalation helps your breathing, and your mind, become relaxed. When you gently and repeatedly focus on breathing, stress gives way to relaxation.
Information taken from:
Stevens Taylor, C. (2007). Peer mentor handbook: Introductory liberal studies colloquium fall 2007.
Unpublished manuscript, University of North Carolina at Asheville.