A psychotherapist says three minutes of breathing is all you need to reduce your stress levels during the holidays

The holidays can be one of the most stressful times of the year. Financial pressures and family commitments can seem a bit overwhelming.

I personally get stressed when traveling around Christmas, so I’m always on the lookout for relaxation techniques that 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 sessions to help with anxiety.

“Breathing can be a powerful tool for managing stress by influencing the body’s physiological and psychological responses,” says Carolyn Cowan, psychotherapist and breathing teacher.

“Slowing and deepening breathing signals the body that it is safe, reducing the intensity of the stress response and lowering levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.”

Cowan put together a three-minute workout for Exact readers try, which should help you stay calm during the festive season. In his own words, “it can be done anywhere in the bathroom, on the bus, at your desk.”

I decided to try it on a busy morning at work, to see if it would help me manage my stress levels.

Pre-breathwork stretches

The woman stands with her arms outstretched at her sides and her eyes closed

“The first thing to do before breathing exercises is to stretch,” says Cowan. “Stretching the body is an important part of breath work and is where the magic happens.”

He recommends that you stand up and stretch your arms out to the sides, take a deep breath and breathe into your belly. You can also raise your chin and open your mouth, stretch out your tongue.

If you’re doing breathing in public and need a gentler movement, do shoulder rolls instead. To do this, inhale for five seconds and slowly roll your shoulders, then exhale for five seconds and roll your shoulders down. You can also try alternating rolling shoulders for an additional minute. Make sure you finish by inhaling and raising both shoulders high, almost to your ears, then exhale and let them drop.

When you’re done stretching, find a comfortable chair, set a timer for three to five minutes (ideally with a soft alarm sound) and follow the instructions below.

How to do the three-minute breathing exercise

  • Breathe in slowly through pursed lips for five seconds, drawing your belly out.

  • Hold your breath for a second.

  • Breathe quickly and gently through your nose.

  • Repeat the above steps until the timer goes off.

  • When your timer goes off, hold your breath, and tense all your muscles for a moment.

  • Breathe and relax.

Additional tips

It’s important to expand your abdomen during inhalation, as Cowan says this will help expand lung capacity and lower the diaphragm. Diaphragmatic breathing is an important part of breathing sessions like this one, because it really helps to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s relaxation response. It acts as a counterbalance to the “fight or flight” response, which is triggered by stressful situations.

Cowan also recommends lengthening the inhalations and exhalations if you feel comfortable doing so, until they are both 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 levels rising again later “you can do the breathing exercise as many times as needed in a day,” says Cowan.

Here’s what I noticed, after testing the session.

1. I feel calmer

It takes three minutes appropriate rest did wonders to my stressed-out mind. I spent those three minutes making a conscious effort to bring my thoughts back to my body and focus on my breathing, which helped me feel calmer.

I will definitely use this method during the holiday season when I feel overwhelmed and need to get away from the festivities.

2. It eases my digestion

I have some problems with my digestion that are made worse by anxiety, so it’s not unusual for me to feel stressed and fighting the bubbly tummy.

After doing this exercise, the nauseous feeling that I carry with me most of the day subsided and I found that I was able to focus better.

I’m not sure if it was due to the physical act of releasing my stomach or if concentrating on my breath pulled my attention away from the dizziness. Either way, the bubby tummy was less bubbly when I took three minutes to breathe.

3. I felt better thinking

As my day went on, I felt more grounded and connected to my body; in other words, more thoughtful. I was able to focus better on what I was doing without thinking about the million things ahead of me, which often caused my thoughts to wander.

Instead, I paid attention to what I was doing with my hands, remained conscious of my breathing, and how my body felt, even after the breathing exercise.

Looking for more ways to relax? Read our guide on how to meditate or stay active with some mindful walking

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