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Breathing Exercises to Reduce Stress

The mind's job is to keep busy. According to a study conducted by the National Science Foundation, the average person produces between 12,000 to 50,000 thoughts per day. It's estimated that ninety-five percent of these are repeated daily. Moreover, the majority are negative. Those of us with loved ones who abuse alcohol and drugs are no strangers to negative thoughts. Often, our internal chatter boxes are on overdrive. Judgment, guilt, and anxiety fuel our obsession with the past and fear for the future.

How is he ever going to recover from all of the damage done? What if there's another crisis? Her rent is due and she can't pay it. Should I cover it this month? My counselor advised me not to enable. But can I live with myself if my daughter lands in the street or a homeless shelter? He finally agreed to go into rehab? Where will I get the money to pay for it? He isn't attending twelve-step meetings. Should I talk to him about it or just leave him alone?

Chronic stress releases the hormone cortisol. If too much builds up, the brain is not given a chance to rest. Chronic stress can lead to a myriad of physical and psychological conditions, such as depression. That's the bad news. The good news is that we can learn to dial down the negative chatter box. We may not be able to silence it completely, but we can reduce its roar by refocusing our attention from worrying about the future and lamenting the past. Brief interludes of relaxation can help quiet our minds.

Here are a few mini-relaxation techniques:

Progressive muscle relaxation: relax muscles in your face, take five deep breaths, scan your body for tense muscles and relax them, bring your shoulders to your ears, hold for a moment and release.

Diaphragmatic (or belly) breathing involves closing your eyes, placing one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Breath fully allowing your belly to expand. Move it up with the inhalation, slow it down as you exhale.

Mindfulness meditation refers to a specific way to pay attention and stay in the present. Don't try to stop your thoughts or your busy mind from wandering. Rather, notice and observe them. When you become distracted (and you probably will), gently bring your awareness back to the present. The only goal is to observe and stay present.

Progressive relaxation and belly breathing work for me, particularly during a crisis. Although I'm sold on the benefits of mindful meditation, it doesn't work as well. However, I can enter into the present when I swim laps at the YWCA. Regular exercise is a natural way to bust stress, relieve anxiety, and improve our mood and outlook. When you state of mind is at rest, you are better able to handle stress. The mind's job is to keep busy. Your job is to quiet it down.

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