As the holiday season gets underway, here’s a quick hack that will reduce your stress levels: commit to taking one or two brief breaks everyday in which you will focus only on your breath. You needn’t be a Buddhist to recognize that the right kind of breathing exercises can help you feel more peaceful. The reason for this calming effect is based on the way God designed our bodies.
Let me explain. Whenever you’re faced with an emergency, your sympathetic nervous system kicks in. Your muscles tense up, your heart beats faster, your blood pressure increases, and adrenaline begins coursing through your body. The body’s 911 system is preparing you for an explosive burst of energy to enable you to make a fight-or-flight response. Though the system is superbly adapted for dealing with immediate dangers, such as fending off a mugger or escaping from a house on fire, the sympathetic nervous system will wreak havoc on your body and your mind if it becomes chronically activated, which is exactly what happens when you’re under constant stress.
By contrast, the parasympathetic system lowers your heart rate, decreases your blood pressure, and enables you to rest. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic system, increasing your sense of calm.
Here’s how to do one breathing exercise. Begin by sitting up straight. Then exhale fully through your mouth. Breathe in deeply through your nose and into your abdomen, letting it fill with air. Hold your breath for two to five counts and then exhale slowly through your nose. Try doing this for five to ten minutes on a regular basis. To enrich the time, begin by imagining yourself in God’s presence, thanking him for how fearfully and wonderfully he has made you.