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Learn Deep Breathing to Relieve Stress

About the Course

Jessica Cohn-Kleinberg

Written by

Medically Reviewed:

Ioana A. Bina, MD., Ph.D.

Writen on:

November 30, 2021 at 9:53:44 AM


December 6, 2021 at 10:01:16 PM

Meditation reduces stress for a number of reasons, but here's a little-known one: It encourages deep breathing. Deep, controlled breathing exercises not only help prepare your body to handle stressful events, they’re also linked to decreases in cortisol.

It comes down to our body’s wiring. Stress triggers our sympathetic nervous system, activating our fight-or-flight response. Cue increases in cortisol, blood pressure, breathing rates, etc.

When we take a moment to calm ourselves, to breathe slowly and deeply, our parasympathetic system takes over. This system controls our body when at rest and helps us relax. So, by controlling our rapid, shallow breaths, we’re essentially pausing our bodies’ fight-or-flight alarm system.

That’s why deep breathing exercises – also called paced respiration, diaphragmatic breathing and abdominal breathing – are beneficial to our overall health. They impact our brains, hearts, digestion, immune system and more. Try incorporating some regular 10-minute (or longer) breathing exercises into your day.

In one example, simply sit or lie flat in a comfortable position. Breathe deeply through your nose, and let your belly fully expand as you fill your lungs. Then breathe out slowly through your mouth, deflating your belly. You may feel the benefits pretty quickly.

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Spend Time with People for Stress Relief

Your relationships with other people can lower your stress levels, as well as reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost overall mood.

Think about the relationships in your life that bring you peace. Maybe it’s a family member, a trusted friend or a coworker. Often these relationships calm us because we know what to expect from them. We know our role and the other person’s role, bringing a sense of stability. Studies back this up. They show when your social status feels stable, you feel more in control, and your cortisol levels remain lower.

Another study proves that social support can be just as effective as yoga for lowering depression, anxiety and overall stress. A group of prenatally depressed women were split into a yoga group and a social support group. Both met weekly for 12 weeks. At the end of each session, both groups saw lower cortisol levels.

And don’t forget another benefit of social support: hugging. Hugs or other positive physical interactions have also proven to dampen cortisol, raise oxytocin and lower systolic blood pressure during stressful events.

Last, but not least, it’s important to acknowledge your stress. To talk about it. After all, stress often has a root cause, be it financial worries, relationship problems, work deadlines, the death of a loved one or something else. Lifestyle changes can help you manage some of this, but they won’t get to the root cause.

When you address the underlying reason, that’s when you unlock true long-lasting stress management. And you can see the immediate impact on your health. In one study, cognitive behavioural therapy for stress management directly reduced cortisol levels in a group of pregnant women. So remember, a large part of stress relief is acknowledging the main cause and getting help.

Laugh More, Even If Forced

Have you heard the saying “laughter is the best medicine”? Well, we can’t say it’s necessarily the best. But it is an effective way to lower cortisol levels, along with releasing endorphins and a host of other health benefits.

One study examined the cortisol levels of those watching an hour-long funny video. A half hour after the video ended, their levels decreased more than the control group. And the effects stay true even if the laughter is forced. In one study of a “laughter yoga” group, which encourages prolonged voluntary laughter, participants saw a significant drop in cortisol levels while the control group did not. It seems you really can laugh away stress.

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