If you pay attention, you'll notice that most of the time, we breathe with our chests. During times of stress, when our breath is short, we can relax and take in more oxygen if we breathe using our diaphragms, a muscle below our ribcage. When we do this, the chest takes in more blood, which is good for heart functions. Like other muscles, the diaphragm needs exercise to get strong. The American Medical Student Association offers these suggestions for practicing diaphragmatic breathing:
- Place your hands on your chest and stomach.
- Breathe in deeply through your nose. Make sure that the hand on your stomach rises and the hand on your chest doesn't.
- Breathe out very slowly and then clench your abdomen muscles.
- Repeat these steps four times [source: AMSA].
Although often practiced by people in religious orders, meditation can be a useful method to relieve stress regardless of one's beliefs. Here are a few different kinds of meditations that supposedly relieve stress:
- Finding a happy place: With this form of meditation, you use your imagination to escape and relax. Think of a place where you felt relaxed -- on a dock at the lake, in the hot sun at the beach or with your friends and family, for example. Try to imagine that place in the greatest detail possible, down to the sounds, smells and textures. When you take a few minutes to really immerse yourself in this meditation, it can serve as an excellent relaxation technique.
- Repeating a mantra: Many religions, including Buddhism, Christianity, and Judaism, use mantras. A mantra is a repeated word or short phrase that serves as a relaxing prayer. For example, a Jewish mantra is "shalom," which means peace. But your mantra need not be religious. When our lives become busy, it can get harder to concentrate on one thing at a time without other thoughts popping into our heads. This is when mantras become useful to clear our minds.
- Mindfulness meditation: In this kind of meditation, commonly associated with Buddhism, you focus in on the present moment. To accomplish this, concentrate on your own breathing. Through practice, you can get better until calming your thoughts becomes easy.
More Great Links
- "How Stress Can Make You Sick, Sydney Researchers Explain." Medical News Today. Dec. 6, 2005. (Mar. 7, 2008) http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/34547.php
- "Learn the Art of Self-Massage: Relax Yourself." Reader's Digest. July 12, 2005. (March 7, 2008) http://www.rd.com/healthy-living/health/learn-the-art-of-self-massage/article.html
- AIS. "America's No. 1 Health Problem." American Institute of Stress. (March 7, 2008) http://www.stress.org
- AMSA. "Health Hint: Breathing Exercises." American Medical Student Associations. (March 7, 2008) https://www.amsa.org/healingthehealer/breathing.cfm
- Ballantyne, Coco. "Fact or Fiction?: Stress Causes Gray Hair." Scientific American. Oct. 24, 2007. (March 7, 2008) http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=fact-or-fiction-stress-causes-gray-hair
- BBC News. "How stress triggers heart attack." BBC News. Feb. 28, 2006. (March 7, 2008) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4754658.stm
- Granath, J., Ingvarsson, S, von Thiele U, Lundberg, U.. "Stress management: a randomized study of cognitive behavioral therapy and yoga." Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. 2006;35(1):3-10. (March 7, 2008) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?Db=pubmed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&TermToSearch=16500773&ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVAbstractPlus
- Helpguide.org. "Stress Relief." Helpguide.org. (March 7, 2008) http://www.helpguide.org/mental/stress_relief_meditation_yoga_relaxation.htm
- MayoClinic. "Massage: A relaxing method to relieve stress and pain." (March 7, 2008) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/massage/SA00082
- MayoClinic: Relaxation techniques: Learn way sot calm your stress." (March 7, 2008) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/relaxation-technique/SR00007
- University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics. "Exercise Reduces Stress." (March 7, 2008) http://www.uihealthcare.com/topics/stressandcope/stre3212.html
- Washington Post. "Facts on Stress." The Washington Post. Jan. 23, 2007. (March 7, 2008) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/19/AR2007011901430_pf.html
- "Meditation for Health Purposes." National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. National Institute of Health. (March 7, 2008) http://nccam.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm