You will remember that one of the effects of the stress response is to speed up your breathing. When it is stressed your body is working harder and it needs more oxygen. This makes your breathing fast and shallow.
The first simple relaxation technique we teach people focuses on a form of deep breathing that is very useful for preventing the stress response from building up.
We call this Diaphragmatic Breathing. This is a breathing technique that makes full use of the diaphragm – a sheet of muscle between your lungs and stomach.
How to take a deep diaphragmatic breath:
- Get into a comfortable position.
- Place one hand, palm down, over your navel and place the other hand over the first hand. Keep your shoulders relaxed while holding this position.
- Keep your eyes open or closed as you feel comfortable, or depending on what you are doing while practising this.
- First, lets imagine there is a hollow pouch or bottle beneath your hands. Now, begin to take in a breath and feel the air going in through your nose or mouth and descending to fill the pouch.
- Your hands will begin to rise as the pouch fills with air – continue breathing in filling the imaginary pouch to the top.
- Your ribcage and upper chest will then expand as the breath fills the lungs fully.
Hold the breath for a moment and gradually let it out – first let the ribs go down and then let the pouch empty.
Do this a couple of times, stopping before you feel light-headed. If you do feel light-headed, then take slightly shallower breaths or fewer breaths when practising. With practice you may find you can begin to take slightly deeper breaths.
Because this form of relaxation is a skill, it is important to practice
Organise a reminder for yourself, to practice the habit of taking diaphragmatic breaths regularly throughout the day. One or two breaths every half hour, is ideal.
Use diaphragmatic breathing on a regular basis, even if you feel quite relaxed, to prevent the build up of the stress response. If you feel stressed, the breathing can help to calm you down.
Incorporate diaphragmatic breathing into your normal activities so that it becomes part of your daily routine.
Every time you get up to make a drink or answer the phone for example, remember to take one or two diaphragmatic breaths.
Put a note or smiley face or some other reminder at your workstation or in the kitchen or sitting room to remind you.
Remember: You do not have to stop doing what you are doing to breath diaphragmatically
Dr. Claire Winchurst, Consultant Clinical Psychologist
Ms. Caroline Waterstone, Specialist Physiotherapist