Stress is at an all-time high in our society. The modern lifestyle has resulted in many people feeling overwhelmed, overstimulated, and anxious. But there's a very simple daily habit you can adopt that will help you manage stress and even balance your hormones: deep breathing.
There is a lot to be stressed about these days, whether you're a full-time student trying to pay her bills, a busy mom with three kids under the age of 12, or someone who is working multiple jobs to make ends meet. Whatever stage you're currently in, you could probably use some stress management. Stress does a lot more damage to our body than simply making us feel anxious or nervous. Stress releases a hormone called cortisol, which is important for blood pressure regulation, the functioning of your cardiovascular system, and even your brain's use of glucose. Living in a chronic state of stress is never a good thing for the body and the mind, but unfortunately there are millions of people who just fight through the stress and go on with their lives, and all the while their health suffers from it.
It has been studied and documented for a long time that women generally tend to be more stressed and anxious (and neurotic) than men are. Many people like to blame higher rates of anxiety amongst women on the fact that women do three times as much "unpaid domestic labor" than men do, that they aren't paid enough at work, etc. But we can't deny that women and men have general personality differences, and women tend to be more agreeable, less confrontational, and more emotional than men are. We also tend to be more insecure. All of this lends to a higher likelihood of suffering from stress and anxiety.
If this all sounds familiar, just know that you are in the perfect position to turn it all around. It really doesn't take much to reduce stress and improve your overall mental health. And one easy way to do that is daily deep breathing.
Deep Breathing Helps Manage Stress and Balance Hormones
It sounds simple and almost a little woo-woo, but you'd be surprised at how much of an impact deep breathing can have on your daily life. The modern lifestyle leaves us with many cortisol spikes throughout the day. Our ancestors may not have had running water or electricity and they were worried about surviving dangerous predators, but overall they had fewer stresses than we have. Today, each notification and ding that goes off on our phone results in a small spike in stress hormones, and while being more connected than ever has its benefits, it also has its downsides.
Rarely do we ever take a second to just stop and breathe in our day-to-day life. We're always on the go, always consuming something from our phone, always being stimulated. There's a lot to be said for slowing down and just doing some deep breathing. In fact, it could be a game changer for you if you're suffering from acute anxiety. That's why I always recommend daily deep breathing to my clients.
First of all, try to stop and observe your breathing throughout the day. You're probably taking shallow, short breaths and you may even find yourself holding your breath at some points, especially when things get stressful. Doing deep, belly breathing that comes from your diaphragm can improve your immunity, decrease stress hormones, relieve physical pain, improve your digestion, and stimulates your lymphatic system, which is responsible for detoxing the body. It also lowers your heart rate and helps you generally relax. The best part is, it's free and you don't need any equipment whatsoever to do it.
Doing deep, belly breathing that comes from your diaphragm can improve your immunity.
Deep breathing will only give you all of these benefits if you do it regularly. You can't expect to improve your immune system suddenly from one 5-minute session of deep breathing. You have to carve out time every day to do it so it becomes a habit and your body reaps the longterm rewards.
What Type of Deep Breathing Is Best?
You don't have to make things complicated. In fact, the simplest, most effective type of deep breathing is when you simply sit down—or even lay down—and put your hand on your belly. Take slow, deep breaths in and out through your nose and feel your hand naturally rise and fall with on your abdomen. Close your eyes and concentrate on taking full, 360-degree breaths so you feel the expansion and contraction in the front of your belly, the sides of your waist, and even your back. Set a timer and do this for 5-10 minutes. If you're brand new and you don't think you can stay still for that long, just start with five minutes and then slowly build from there. Do your best to clear your mind and just focus on the breathing.
Another common go-to is called box breathing. There are four different parts to your breath in this exercise: inhale, hold at the top, exhale, hold at the bottom. Choose a count that you can use for all four. For example, inhale for three full seconds, then hold at the top for three full seconds. Exhale for three seconds, and hold your breath at the bottom for three seconds. You can adjust the count to be whatever works for you. The idea is that you gradually increase that number so you're holding for, say, 6 seconds at each phase of the breath.
Wim Hof is another great breathwork system that helps people relieve stress and manage their anxiety. Wim Hof is a Dutch athlete who created a type of breathing that helps many people improve their physical and mental health, and he even has a free app that you can use to do the breathing. It goes like this: you take 30-40 deep belly breaths, in and out through your mouth, then you exhale completely and hold at the bottom of your breath for as long as possible; you inhale, hold at the top for 15 seconds, then rinse and repeat.
You don't necessarily have to do any type of breathwork, though. You can just take deep inhales and exhales for a few minutes a day and that will do the trick.
How to Incorporate Deep Breathing into Your Daily Life
Just like brushing your teeth, eating nutrient-dense foods, and getting direct sunlight, deep breathing should become a daily habit that will help you improve your overall health. But new habits aren't exactly easy to add to our routine, especially if we have a tight schedule already and it's difficult to find the time. That's why it helps to do something called habit stacking.
It helps to do something called habit stacking.
Choose the time of day you'd like to do daily deep breathing. Let's say you pick the morning. Now think of one thing you do every single morning without fail, no matter what, like brushing your teeth, eating breakfast, putting on your shoes, getting changed, etc. The best way to create a new habit is to stack it on top of a habit you already do without having to think about. For example, before you brush your teeth every morning, sit down and do your deep breathing. If you follow this routine for 30 days, it will become second nature and you'll suddenly have a brand new habit of doing deep breathing each morning before you brush your teeth and get the day started.
Choose whatever habit you'd like to stack deep breathing on top of, set a reminder on your phone, and commit to it for 30 days straight. That will pretty much guarantee that the habit will stick for the long run. As you're adding this new habit to your life, don't stress about it. It may take time to add this to your routine, but you'll get the hang of it and you'll be healthier and happier for it.