note: this is part 2 in a 3-part series.
“Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure.”
Just about everyone deals with more stress than they would like. Most people have been told to take a moment and “just breathe” or “take a deep breathe” when they are stressed. Whys is this so common? Stress of any kind elevates a hormone called cortisol in your body. This is a good thing and is normal. However, living in a constant state of stress and elevated cortisol is not so great. Breathing can help combat elevated cortisol, but first check out why its important to keep your cortisol levels in check.
Prolonged elevation of cortisol does a lot of interesting things to the body. One of which is impede the body’s ability to use fat as a primary fuel source. This is an issue especially for low intensity activities where fat should be easily converted to energy. We as humans tend to spend about 90%+ of our time alive at lower intensity activities, depending on the person. So it makes sense to get our body very efficient at using fat as a primary energy source.
When cortisol levels are too high for too long it may also cause anxiety, emotional swings, digestive issues, skin issues, and sleep problems. There are more, but rather then get caught up in the problems, lets turn to some fantastic solutions!
So do you want to improve your ability manage cortisol and stress?! Then it’s time to talk about how to de-stress yourself naturally. Some people call it meditation, some call it mindfullness, some call it focused breathing, etc. No matter how you want to frame it, this kind of habit is an all natural way of lowering cortisol, calming the mind, and shifting your focus to what’s important.
As a great habit to start with, try focusing on only breathing through your nose at all times. Yes, you read that right—all times—including when you sleep. In fact, unless you are doing very high intensity exercise, nose breathing should be the only way you breathe. Check out a great book called “The Oxygen Advantage” by Patrick McKeown if you’re interested in learning more.
Other than practicing nose breathing all day, another great habit is to begin doing some meditation or focused breathing practice. Some great options are using an app, like “Headspace”, on your smart phone/tablet. These apps will have various types of meditations that can help sleep, focus, and obviously stress. Even apps like “Spotify” have meditation music and guided meditations. If that is a little to esoteric for your liking you can start with breathing drills.
Box breathing is a very common breathing practice that will still give you plenty of the benefits of meditation. Box breathing requires you to follow 4 phases. All four phases of this drill are done for the same length of time. For example, if you perform a 4-count box breathing, you will find a comfy position and do the following: (1) breath in for a count of four, (2) hold your breath for a count of four, (3) exhale for a count of four, (4) hold you breath again for a count of four, and repeat for 2+ minutes. You can perform box breathing for a count of 2 all the way up to as high a number as you’d like.
There are far too many breathing practices, styles of breathing, and meditations to discuss here. The point is that this is a habit that everyone can make fit for their own lives.
Just like physical activity, you should be trying different styles for a few weeks/months. Then try something new that works for you when you feel bored/stuck. Now go out and just breathe!