There are so many personal ways to manage stress, which are dependent on our lifestyles, what we enjoy, etc. I always encourage people to explore new things; you can find stress relief in activities you’d never have imagined. That said, there are a few things that are scientifically proven to work for nearly everyone, and they’re FREE.
We live in a country where there are a number of barriers when it comes to health. Socioeconomic status in particular greatly impacts health outcomes, and access is one of the biggest factors. Access to information; quality healthcare; nutritious, affordable food; safe, affordable places for enjoyable activity; basic needs like food and housing stability. It is imperative for everyone to find ways to combat stress, but even more so for those less likely to have access to any one of these. Everyone deserves the benefits of evidence-based methods of stress relief without being tricked into thinking it needs to come at a price.
The almighty trio is comprised of diaphragm breathing, meditation, and stretching/yoga. The primary reason these methods for stress management work is their ability to increase our relaxation response, which counters that ‘fight-or-flight’ feeling we can experience during everyday tasks. That increased relaxation response extends over time, not just while we are actively stretching, meditating, or belly breathing. Most importantly, the primary reason these methods work for everyone is that they’re free, can be done in 5-10 minutes per day (though the more time you can spend, the greater the benefits), and can be adjusted to fit into any schedule.
I’m going to run through each of the three methods individually and provide some additional information, as well as resources.
Diaphragm breathing is one of the most basic yet vital functions we can learn. Breathing is the foundation of…. Literally everything. When we get stressed, we tend to breathe more quickly and shallow, usually in our chests rather than breathing deeply through our bellies. This not only overworks the neck and shoulder muscles, but it also prevents us from building respiratory capacity, which matters more and more as we get older.
Learning to breathe properly and taking time to actively engage in this practice – even just a few minutes a day – can have a huge impact on physical and mental health.
Some of the more compelling information I came across when researching:
“Psychological studies have revealed breathing practice to be an effective non-pharmacological intervention for emotion enhancement (Stromberg et al., 2015), including a reduction in anxiety, depression, and stress (Brown and Gerbarg, 2005a,b; Anju et al., 2015). A 1-day breathing exercise was found to relieve the emotional exhaustion and depersonalization induced by job burnout (Salyers et al., 2011). A 30-session intervention with a daily duration of 5 min can significantly decrease the anxiety of pregnant women experiencing preterm labor (Chang et al., 2009). In addition, similar effects on anxiety was observed in a 3-days intervention study, where breathing practices were performed 3 times per day (Yu and Song, 2010). Further evidence from a randomized controlled trial (RCT) suggested that a 7-days intensive residential yoga program that included pranayama (breathing exercises) reduced anxiety and depression in patients with chronic low back pain (Tekur et al., 2012). Supportive evidence has also come from a line of RCTs of TCC and yoga (Benson, 1996; Telles et al., 2000; Oakley and Evans, 2014). Currently, breathing practice is widely applied in clinical treatments for mental conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Sahar et al., 2001; Descilo et al., 2010; Goldin and Gross, 2010), motion disorders (Russell et al., 2014), phobias (Friedman and Thayer, 1998), and other stress-related emotional disorders.”
_ _ _ _ _ _ _
“The following information was presented during the Research Panel at the 2019 NQA Annual Conference on Diaphragmatic Breathing. It includes a summary of current research on diaphragmatic breathing.
· Diaphragmatic breathing and meditative movements such as those found in Qigong have been shown to have a regulatory effect on the autonomic nervous system, mainly through engaging the parasympathetic system.
· Slow, deep breathing has been shown to increase parasympathetic activity in both healthy and symptomatic populations through influence on the vagal nerve [1,2]
· This leads to decreases in heart rate and blood pressure, muscle relaxation, improved digestion, improved sleep cycles, enhanced anti-inflammatory effects, and enhanced mood 
· Additional benefits include increased oxygenation of the blood and removal of waste products such as carbon dioxide. Combining this with maintenance of proper upright posture will aid in enhancing one’s respiratory capabilities.
Link to a video where I explain how to breathe into belly versus chest:
I used to really balk at the idea of meditating. I don’t even like sitting still in a bath. But here’s the thing: it has so many benefits, I had to rethink my aversion to it. I always felt like I needed to be “zen” to meditate, but that’s really not the case. Meditation is really just about taking time to be with yourself and your thoughts. It’s about awareness and slowing down. Once I realized I didn’t have to try to shut my brain off, I began to really enjoy the idea of meditation. You can absolutely use an app for a guided meditation, but if you don’t have access to those things, just being still and focusing on deep breathing for a few minutes IS meditation.
Here are some of the things that stood out to me while researching:
“One of her studies (which was included in the JAMA Internal Medicine review) found that a mindfulness-based stress reduction program helped quell anxiety symptoms in people with generalized anxiety disorder, a condition marked by hard-to-control worries, poor sleep, and irritability. People in the control group—who also improved, but not as much as those in the meditation group—were taught general stress management techniques. All the participants received similar amounts of time, attention, and group interaction.”
_ _ _ _ _ _ _
“My own interest comes from having practiced those [meditation techniques] and found them beneficial, personally. Then, being a scientist, asking ‘How does this work? What is this doing to me?’ and wanting to understand the mechanisms to see if it can help others,” Desbordes said. “If we want that to become a therapy or something offered in the community, we need to demonstrate [its benefits] scientifically.”
Desbordes’ research uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which not only takes pictures of the brain, as a regular MRI does, but also records brain activity occurring during the scan. In 2012, she demonstrated that changes in brain activity in subjects who have learned to meditate hold steady even when they’re not meditating. Desbordes took before-and-after scans of subjects who learned to meditate over the course of two months. She scanned them not while they were meditating, but while they were performing everyday tasks. The scans still detected changes in the subjects’ brain activation patterns from the beginning to the end of the study, the first time such a change — in a part of the brain called the amygdala — had been detected.
I’ll always have a special place in my heart for yoga. It was the first form of movement I discovered that I was able to stick with long enough to really feel the difference it was making for me. I cannot recommend it enough to anyone who is new to physical activity. It was also the first form of movement I found that truly helped me from a mental perspective. I would walk into a class or pop that DVD in (yes, this was awhile ago, OKAY!?), set my intention for the practice, and roll with it. Every single time, I felt better when I finished. Calmer. More accomplished. More in control of my body… as though I could literally feel myself connecting mind and body. I know that sounds cheesy, but it is the truth. I’ve not been creating my own workouts lately as I’m more focused on studying to take an upcoming health coaching exam, but I normally LOVE creating workouts that incorporate yoga and flexibility.
I may look into getting certified for yoga – I just believe in it that much.
I’m particularly moved by this tidbit I found:
“While yoga is not a cure for a cancer, nor a definitive way of preventing it, yoga increases physical, emotional and spiritual wellness, and brings about a certain peace, of which many cancer patients desire. Yoga, breathing exercises, and meditation can reduce stress, promote healing, and enhance quality of life for patients with cancer.[28,29] The growth of tumors and other cancer indicators are exacerbated by stress, thus it is especially important for people with cancer to reduce and manage stress effectively. Several premises exist as rationale for applying yoga-based interventions with cancer patients. Research suggests that yoga can produce an invigorating effect on mental and physical energy that improves fitness and reduces fatigue. Additionally, when practicing yoga, a fundamental emphasis is placed on accepting one’s moment-to-moment experiences creating mindfulness and not forcing the body past its comfortable limits. Having this healthy sense of acceptance is especially important for individuals dealing with life-threatening illness as it decreases the stress one experiences from unpleasant symptomology. Initially, cancer patients likely benefit from the poses themselves which are designed to exercise each and every muscle, nerve and gland throughout the body. The postures precisely address the tension, holding, and blockage of energy in any particular joint or organ. As this tension is released, energy flows more readily throughout the body and allows patients to experience a sense of increased well-being and strength as well as a balance of mind, body and spirit.”
Here is a breakdown of most commonly seen yoga styles in case you want to learn more, take a class, etc.:
Additional Stress inventories
I want to do my best to provide tools and resources for EVERYONE to find ways to feel better – physically, mentally, and/or emotionally. At the end of the day, it’s all tied together. With that said, I’m going to launch a 10-minute program starting at the beginning of June.
There will be modifications so it can be done regardless of experience and current activity level, and most importantly, it’s free and will be easy to access on whatever you’re looking at this post on. Next week, I’ll tell you all about it. Follow to get updates & hear more!