Learn how to breathe

People who are stressed breathe too shallowly and too fast. This can cause palpitations and headaches, although sufferers often don’t connect these conditions with their stress.

We all start from a position of strength, in that breathing is an automatic reflex, but nevertheless, we can still alter how we breathe. Controlling your breathing controls your heart rate and most symptoms of stress. Getting your breathing right can revolutionize how you feel and perform at any time.

The important point is to breathe from your diaphragm and not from your chest. Chest breathing is shallow, with air moving only through your upper lungs. Oxygen levels fall, and your body becomes stressed and produces an adrenalin surge that triggers palpitations, headaches and muscle spasm. These make breathing even shallower, your body utilizes less oxygen and you may experience a classic panic attack.

It is easy to learn the technique of deep breathing from your diaphragm, and you don’t need to be fit in order to practice it. If overweight Italian opera singers can do it, so can you.

1 Lie down in a quiet room. Breathe in through your nose and, as you do, push your stomach and abdomen out. Focus on your breathing and imagine that the air is filling you and rising into your shoulders as you count to 5. Do not force it and keep your shoulders relaxed. If you feel you want to breathe out quickly, don’t worry — this urge will lessen as your breathing improves.

2 Hold your breath briefly, then slowly breathe out through your mouth, once again counting to 5. Focus only on what you are doing and concentrate on your feelings. Repeat this for 2-3 minutes if you can. Breathe normally and feel how relaxed you are before restarting again. Repeat 5 times.

Once you have learned how to relax by breathing deeply, link this to a time of day or an activity, such as sitting down to work at the beginning of the day, or in a daily traffic jam. For a quick fix at times of acute stress, take three or four deep, regular diaphragm breaths, then return to normal breathing for a few moments. Repeat once more. This will be enough to slow your pulse and allow you to concentrate clearly, talk rationally or survive a stressful event such as speaking in public.

Watch famous actors or politicians, and observe how they behave before they speak. They lower their breathing rate in this way and relax their shoulders every time. It does not turn them into Oscar-winners or enliven their speeches, but they feel less stressed as a result. So will you.

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