Updated: Aug 7
Stress has become far too familiar for Americans since 2020.
In fact, it’s become such a familiar subject, that a 2020 survey actually revealed that as many as 8 in every 10 adults (84%) would admit to experiencing some emotion related to undealt with, lingering stress in their life.
This emotion could be anything from anger (39%), anxiety (47%), or sadness (44%), but it’s always rooted in some unresolved stress.
It doesn’t take an expert to know that stress is not an enjoyable part of everyday life. But what many don’t realize is that stress goes beyond just making us uncomfortable. Stress, when left untreated, can wreak havoc on an individual's health.
Unaddressed stress can cause gastrointestinal problems, cardiovascular disease, weakening of the immune system, difficulty learning and comprehending, issues with our memory, and problems with our hormones.
So, what’s causing all this unwanted and seemingly unavoidable stress in Americans?
There were plenty of stressors in 2022, but the top five triggers reported were money, work, mental health, physical health, and family. These five areas made up 68% of Americans' reasons for weekly and daily stress.
But there are more reasons for stress than just money, health, and family. Americans also reported that people in their lives were sources of built-up stress. The highest reported stress-inducing individuals were spouses, bosses, parents, or kids.
And of course, in addition to people, money, work, health, and family, nothing can stress out an individual like a worldwide pandemic. Between national lockdowns, job layoffs, and millions of people getting sick, it’s no surprise that 44% of Americans surveyed claimed the 2021 pandemic was the most stressful experience of their lives.
It’s clear that Americans weren’t lacking things to stress over in 2022. What they are lacking, however, are ways to healthily reduce or combat said stress.
To combat their stress, 44% of Americans watch TV or movies, 14% resort to alcohol, and 9% use recreational drugs such as marijuana. These coping mechanisms offer momentary relief from everyday stress but do not reduce its damaging effects.
Americans need a better solution for combatting stress, and daily deep breathing may be the answer.
What is Deep Breathing?
Deep breathing, or abdominal breathing, is a technique used to increase the amount of oxygen reaching your brain, while simultaneously stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. This process activates the body’s natural relaxation response, a physical state of rest.
This physical state of rest allows for several things to occur within your body:
Decreased heart rate
Relaxation of the muscles
Slower and more controlled breathing
Decreased blood pressure
Increased nitric oxide level
But why should you be concerned with your body experiencing any of the things listed above?
Well, when your heart rate is increased, it means it’s working harder than it should be and pumping more blood. It’s doing more work and becoming more stressed.
A high heart rate could indicate cardiovascular disease or early death. By decreasing your heart rate, you’re actively relaxing it and preventing negative stress on your heart.
High blood pressure can lead to several dangerous heart conditions such as coronary artery disease, an enlarged left heart, and heart failure. It can also increase your chances of a stroke or permanent kidney damage.
Decreasing your blood pressure through deep breathing will not only reduce your risks of heart, kidney, and stroke complications but can also improve your quality of life and possibly increase your lifespan.
Increased nitric oxide levels allow for better blood flow and lower blood pressure, which, again, promotes a healthy and happy heart and prevents the risks of the heart issues listed previously.
Deep breathing is more than just a “feel good” mechanism or a stress reducer. Deep breathing can literally do miracles on an individual's mental and physical well-being.
How to Deep Breathe Effectively
According to Harvard Medical School, the most important component to successful deep breathing is creating a routine you can stick with. There might be several ways to effectively practice deep breathing, but what’s most important is finding the way that feels best for you.
Here are the following tips Harvard suggests:
Find a quiet location where you can comfortably sit or lie down.
Relax. Don’t get caught up in trying too hard or forcing it. Overthinking can cause tension, which creates the opposite effect of what you’re trying to accomplish.
Shift your focus from those points of stress to deep and calm rhythms.
Practice your routine throughout the day and around the same times each day. This will help you establish it as a habit.
Duration should fall anywhere from 10-20 minutes.
When it comes to the actual breathing action, breath focus will be your guide.
Breath focus is exactly what it sounds like—focusing on each breath. This concentration will allow you to take your mind off of the stressors around you and onto your deep breathing.
First, take a normal breath.
Now, take a deep breath by slowly breathing in through your nose. Feel your entire chest and lower belly fill up with air. Do all of this very slowly and intentionally. Finally, once you feel you’ve filled up entirely with air, release it slowly through your mouth. Repeat the process.
It’s recommended to include some sort of peaceful imagery, or perhaps a relaxing phrase while practicing your deep breathing. In addition, try to release any built-up tension in your shoulder area. This is the most common area for stress to build up and cause muscle tension.
Remember, for best results, your duration should be anywhere from 10-20 minutes and done several times a day—especially, but not limited to, those specific moments of intense stress or panic.
Adding Deep Breathing to Your Schedule
Don’t be stressed about adding another task to your already packed schedule. Daily deep breathing is supposed to be a relaxing and helpful tool, not another assignment to check off or worry about.
Here are some suggestions for adding deep breathing to your schedule:
1. Select specific times throughout the day for scheduled deep breathing.
Setting a reminder on your phone will help you remember. This could be first thing in the morning, getting your mindset for the day ahead. Or it could be smack in the middle of the day when you know you’ll need to step away from the chaos.
It could also be the last thing you do before bed, helping you get a more restful night’s sleep. Whatever time you choose, scheduling your deep breathing can help ensure you incorporate it into your day and prevent any unnecessary stress trying to fit it in.
2. Incorporate deep breathing into your other daily tasks.
If you can’t free up specific times for deep breathing, it doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the benefits altogether.
Try the breath focus routine mentioned earlier at work, during your commute, or while doing chores around the house. If done correctly, you’ll still experience the benefits of deep breathing.
3. Practice deep breathing with a loved one.
There’s no rule that says deep breathing has to be done alone in order to be effective. As long as you’re increasing your amount of air intake, your body can still benefit from intentional deep breathing.
For some, having a partner with them might make them feel more comfortable, and it helps with accountability to practice deep breathing daily. So, grab your spouse, children, or co-workers and start deep breathing!
Unfortunately, stressors in our lives are usually unavoidable. But that doesn’t mean our physical and mental health has to suffer.
Start practicing daily deep breathing today and get ready for the benefits that follow!
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