Monday, August 16, 2010

Information Overload: Is Choosing How to De-Stress Stressing You Out?

Finding time to relax is hard enough, and to make matters worse, every lifestyle magazine cover, newspaper or TV newscast has different suggestions for managing stress. Here's some soothing news: results of a study in Behavior and Research Therapy (August 2010) show that breathing is the most effective relaxation strategy. Compared to progressive muscle relaxation and meditation, mindful breathing was the most calming activity.  A stand-out result of the study was how well mindful breathing helped reduce anxious thinking and limit the ability of negative thoughts to upset study participants.

If you have never tried breathing for relaxation, Dr. Andrew Weill gives great instructions:

This exercise is utterly simple, takes almost no time, requires no equipment and can be done anywhere. Although you can do the exercise in any position, sit with your back straight while learning the exercise. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four (your belly should expand).
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight (your belly should contract as it pushes out the air).
  • This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Note that you always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in position the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation. The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is important. If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise up but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice you can slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply.

Take a moment to relax and breath
 This exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. Unlike tranquilizing drugs, which are often effective when you first take them but then lose their power over time, this exercise is subtle when you first try it but gains in power with repetition and practice. Two times a day is a great goal, and you cannot do it too frequently. Do not do more than four breaths at one time for the first month of practice. Later, if you wish, you can extend it to eight breaths. If you feel a little lightheaded when you first breathe this way, do not be concerned; it will pass.
Once you develop this technique by practicing it every day, it will be a very useful tool that you will always have with you. Use it whenever anything upsetting happens - before you react. Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension. Use it to help you fall asleep. This exercise cannot be recommended too highly. Everyone can benefit from it.

Be well, and just breathe...

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