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Stress Management > 2. Deep breathing


Deep breathing is usually the first relaxation skill I teach my patients to combat stress, anxiety, tension, and worry. There are few steps to learn, and most people can accomplish a noticeable increase in relaxation the very first time they try it. I have found that some people have difficulty consciously controlling their breathing. If this is true for you, just try another technique of relaxation.

1. When learning this technique sit in a comfortable chair or lie down in a comfortable position.

2. Put one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your chest.

3. As you breath in allow your abdomen to extend and your chest to remain relatively still. This is called diaphragmatic breathing.

4. Breath in slowly and count to yourself to about 5 or 7, whichever allows you to just reach the point where your lungs are expanded fully.

5. Pause briefly while your lungs are expanded, then exhale slowly counting to 5 or 7 again. Some people choose to count backwards from 5 to 1.

6. You do not need to force all the air out of your lungs when you exhale. Just allow your breathing muscles to come to rest as you normally do when you breathe.

7. Take three of these deep breaths in a row. Then breathe normally for a minute. Then take three more deep breaths. Continue this cycle of deep breaths and normal breathing until you feel relaxed enough.

8. If you begin to feel dizzy or light-headed, just begin breathing normally for a while.

When learning this technique practice using it several times per day. Then whenever you feel symptoms of distress, practice the deep breathing exercise. The beauty of this technique is that you can practice it almost anywhere without anyone else knowing you are doing it. You can practice it at work to take a stress break. You can practice it before you know you are going to have to perform some stressful activity like public speaking, talking to the boss, or reprimanding your child.

It is important to realize that although you may receive benefits from your first use of a skill, it may take days or weeks to learn the skill and receive full benefit from it. How much benefit will be derived from a skill will likely be in direct proportion to how often and consistently you practice. Habits are hard to change. It will likely take three to six months before you develop a habit of practicing a skill, and it becomes a part of your routine. Before that happens you will need to devise reminders to practice. Write yourself notes and put them in your pocket, on your calendar, on your refrigerator, in your computer, on your desk, on your computer monitor, in your car, anywhere you look often.

Author: David W. Kidder, Ph.D.

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