Combat Holiday Stress with this simple breathing technique

Stress has been described as the health epidemic of the 21st century, add to that living in the time of a global pandemic and for many people, they are feeling more anxious and stressed than ever before. Christmas is acknowledged by many psychologists and health professionals as one of the most stressful times of the year. The reasons for this vary from person-to-person but include sensory overload with music, lights and crowds, feeling pressure to create the “perfect” Christmas or financial worries. There are many ways in which the “most wonderful time of the year” can leave you feeling less than wonderful, this simple breathing technique will help you to de-stress ready to enjoy the festivities.

What are the signs of stress?

Stress has been linked to many diseases and can impact health but what are the warning signs that you could be more stressed than you think?

A shift in your emotions

If you feel yourself feeling anxious, nervous, constantly worried or depressed more often than usual it may be clear that stress is playing on your mind. Other signs that you might not realise could be feeling more irritable, agitated and short-tempered than normal or even feeling “brain fog” where it’s difficult to make decisions or you find you are more forgetful than usual and your libido can take a hit.

A change in your behaviours

Closely related to changes in our mood, often our behaviours can also be affected by stress.

If you find you have lost enthusiasm for things that you used to enjoy, want to stay home more and are isolating yourself it could be a sign that your mood has taken a hit.

Perhaps you have found yourself smoking or drinking more, twisting your hair, biting your nails or comfort eating? These habits are ways to try and self-soothe but if you are struggling to manage your stress levels then finding healthier ways to manage the stress will help to build stress resilience.

Physical signs of stress

Stress can also take a toll on our bodies and even be a contributing factor to diseases.

Tension headaches, a racing heart, achy shoulders are common signs of stress along with a lowered immune system (for example, always catching colds) and inflammation-related symptoms such as eczema flare-ups or IBS which can often be triggered by stress.

Restricted breath

Take a moment to just notice your breath. There can be signs of stress in our breath such as shallow short breaths rather than low deep ones, Clenched teeth and tension in the jaw, or breathing through your mouth rather than your nose.

Try this breath practice to de-stress

Breath is something that we can control anytime, anywhere. It is connected to our body both as an indicator of how we are feeling, but equally, it also has the ability to affect our physical body.

For any feelings of stress or anxiety, try this 2-to-1 breathing technique to calm the nervous system, activating the parasympathetic nervous system with the lengthened exhale. It can be done sitting comfortably or even lying down.

Start by just focussing on your breath – close your eyes if you are able and comfortable to do so. Notice how the breath feels, where it is going. If you are feeling anxious you may find you are breathing only to the top of your chest, short shallow breath. Notice this and try to focus on breathing deeper. See if you can breathe all the way down to your tummy so it starts to rise and fall.

Once you are breathing calmly, begin to mentally count the duration of inhalation and exhalation, letting them be approximately equal in length. Most people will be comfortable with a 6-count breath, or 8-count breath with the inhale and the exhale lasting for 3 or 4 counts each. See what works for you.

Continue to let your breath flow smoothly in and out through the nose.

When you are ready, begin to slow and extend your exhalation, one count at a time. Gradually adjust your breathing to achieve a 2-to-1 ratio, for example inhaling for a count of 3 and exhaling for 6.

Don’t push yourself further than you feel comfortable, just work with your own lung capacity focussing on creating a slow and extended exhale.

Continue to breathe this way for 5 minutes or until you feel calmer.