It’s the holidays. But you’re not feeling jolly. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is challenging. Parties, presents and panic – OH MY!
It’s a busy time. With so many things to do on top of the normal day-to-day and end-of-year work deadlines, you want to crawl into a hole and be left alone. While that may work for Scrooge, you can’t escape all those responsibilities. So when holiday stress keeps you from being jolly old Saint Nick, take a minute for some deep breathing exercises before stress sabotages the entire season.
Make time to reset with breathing exercises for stress
Often, the more stressed you get, the less time you think you have to relax. But that is exactly what you need to do – to pause. Stop thinking long enough to ask, “What am I trying to do, why am I doing it and what is hindering me from doing it more efficiently?” Then, you can gather your thoughts and map out a plan.
Anytime you feel yourself speeding up, feeling overwhelmed, anxious, reactive or out of control, simply slow down. The easiest way to do this is to pause and try these breathing exercises for stress reduction.
EXERCISE 1: DIAPHRAGMATIC, EQUAL BREATHING
Instructions: Sit up straight with legs uncrossed, soles of your feet on the floor. Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Close your mouth, and start to breathe in and out through your nose. Don’t force the breath – make it even and steady.
- Start by inhaling through your nose over a slow, even count to four.
- Exhale through your nose, again over a count of four.
- Inhale again, this time counting to five. Breathe all the way into your abdomen and feel your belly expand into your hand. Exhale for five.
- On your next breath, count to six on both the inhale and exhale.
- Take five more breaths just like that, inhaling and exhaling over a count of six.
How do you feel now compared to a few minutes ago?
Try this exercise with your eyes closed in a quiet space. With practice, you can increase the count to seven or eight.
EXERCISE 2: 4-7-8 BREATHING
Instructions: Sit up straight with legs uncrossed, soles of your feet on the floor.
- To begin, inhale through your nose over a slow, even count to four. Breathe all the way into your abdomen and feel your belly expand into your hand.
- Hold your breath for seven counts.
- Exhale over a count of eight, pushing the breath out from your abdomen, up through your chest cavity and throat and out through your mouth.
- Repeat steps 1-3 three more times for a total of four cycles.
What do you notice?
The 4-7-8 breath is not only helpful to help you manage anxiety, but it can also be used before bedtime to help you slow down and prepare your body for sleep.
Experiment with these two breathing exercises to see which works better for you.
Why deep breathing exercises work
Studies have shown that just a few minutes of breath work can lower your stress hormone levels, stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and bring you back to a more balanced state. Not only will pausing to do breathing exercises calm you down, but the effects can help you become more aware of what your body needs, allowing you to make better lifestyle choices to further reduce stress.
Try a breathing exercise mid-morning and mid-afternoon every day. It will help you recalibrate. Notice how you feel before and after, as well as your improved ability to concentrate on the task directly after the exercise.
This type of breathing exercise can be used in almost any stressful situation, whether at work, at home or somewhere in between. Try it the next time your kids are trying your patience, while you are waiting in line to buy presents or stuck in holiday traffic (keep your eyes open).
You will feel the benefits of deep breathing exercises immediately. But the more you practice, the more you’ll be able to concentrate for longer periods of time, be more emotionally aware and have a heightened awareness to details. It’s powerful! And the results will only get better with practice, so that you can have a happier holiday season year after year.