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How to Destress Simply By Improving Your Breathing

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A few months ago, I read a book called “Breath:  The New Science of a Lost Art” by James Nestor. My timing was spot on – I was in the middle of a wicked Boston winter, stuck at home with my kids and dealing with anxiety and heart-palpitation issues that may have been related to lingering COVID symptoms. I’ve also never been very good at breathing. As a recreational runner and semi-regular high-intensity exerciser, I spend most of the time breathing through my mouth and wondering why I can’t seem to catch my breath. I thought that the book looked interesting and might be able to help.

Irregular breathing has been a life-long issue for me and Nestor says I’m not alone – it turns out that humans are terribly inefficient breathers. We tend to breathe too much through our mouths while neglecting our nose and this can lead to serious complications such as insomnia, sleep apnea, obesity and even death in extreme cases. However, Nestor makes clear that we can become better and even reduce our stress and anxiety by breathing more efficiently.

Considering the pandemic has caused our lives to be filled with more stress than usual, here are a few tips and breathing exercises we can use to destress:

  • Breathe through your nose as much as possible. – Mouth breathing increases physical and mental duress and elevates blood pressure. Whether you are sitting, walking, jogging or exercising, nose breaths are best.
  • Keep those breaths slow. – When you do this, your airways become wider, breathing becomes easier and you produce energy more efficiently.
  • Exhale slowly as well. – This produces more CO2. If you are an athlete or exercising, you will get higher aerobic endurance and increase your stamina.
  • The rule of 5.5. – This is something that Nestor recommends we practice: Breathe for 5.5 seconds in through your nose, then 5.5 seconds out through your nose. This leads to 5.5 breaths per minute, the “ideal” number.
  • Modulate your breathing while running. – Right before you start your run, inhale for two seconds and exhale for five. When you run, inhale fast and then exhale long breaths, if possible. It’s hard, but endurance and energy will add up.
  • Use box breathing (or the 4-4-4 technique) in stressful situations. – Navy SEALs use this to stay calm in tense situations: Breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, then exhale for four seconds. Repeat three times.

So remember: Breathe through your nose, breathe less and breathe slowly. You might run a little faster, kick that cold a little sooner or sleep a little better at night.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of American College of Education.

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