Breathing and Stress-Free Zones

This week, I'm presenting the cheapest, most effective stress busters I know. Breathing and escaping!

Suffering from stress is a bit like drowning. The first thing it affects is our breathing. Our brain becomes starved of oxygen (which stops us thinking resourcefully in tough or difficult situations); our chest feels tight and we might panic.

The first thing to do is to get our head above water and take two deep breaths. That's exactly what we need to do in stressful situations.

Notice what happens to your breathing next time you feel anxious or tense -- you'll find your breathing is shallow, irregular and only at the top of your lungs. This could be called tense breathing and triggers tense behavior. And certainly stops all sensible brain activity, let alone, resourceful behavior!

Do you remember sitting down to an exam? It's perusal time and you are looking down the list of questions....the first four are fine but... the fifth question is one you did no study for. OH NO! Immediately you would have stopped breathing! (Not literally because you would die; but your breathing became very shallow and high and virtually stopped anyway! Certainly your brain stopped.) That's what happens in real life -- when we encounter a situation we perceive as stressful.

Here's the antidote! Take a deep breath -- right down to the base of your lungs -- put your hands at the bottom of your ribs and feel your diaphragm and stomach expand as you breathe in, then let the air out fully. Pause for a second or two and then take another deep breath. It doesn't have to be a huge volume breath -- but it needs to be down at the base of your lungs. Your shoulders should be relaxed and not surging towards the ceiling! This is relaxed, resourceful breathing and if you watch someone sleeping peacefully you will see what relaxed breathing is like.

Every time you hear or read the word "stress" from now on, or are aware that you feel stressed, consciously take two deep breaths in and out. It's the second breath that has the physiological impact (big words for relaxing effect!) -- so it's the most important one. No one else notices, it makes you feel good and eventually becomes an automatic response to stress (breathe twice!) instead of the shallow breathing that puts you into panic mode.

Many people smoke under pressure because they take deep, long breaths -- the same strategy works much better if you do it without the cigarette!

Although it sounds simple, it's not always easy to remember to breathe -- but it is the single greatest weapon humans have against stress causing situations -- real or imagined. Stick a note that says R.T.B. on your bathroom mirror, in front of your desk, or in your car -- (Remember To Breathe!).


In a world full of possible real or imagined sabre tooth tigers, we need to create our own safe haven. A place where we can unwind, be ourselves, be loved and loving, be peaceful and recharge our batteries.

This strategy is very useful if we create physical stress free zones. To create a physical safe area, we need to find and keep a separate spot from where we live, or to "decontaminate" our homes.

When we walk in the door, where do we leave our briefcases or other work linked items? Do we keep our work clothes on or litter them across our home? How many times have we taken work home? And worked in front of the TV, beside the bed, or on the dining room table? The subconscious mind now has difficulty separating work and home activities. So there is a part of us that stops us fully unwinding and relaxing when we arrive home because we are expecting work to start at any time in any place. Our sleep is affected for the same reason. Home starts to lose its homey feeling.

It's critical that we "decontaminate" our house. We need to allocate one area in the house that is just for work. All our work needs to be done there and all work phone calls made from that place. If we have small homes or need to spread out, we must cover the dining table with a cloth when working to delineate between work time and relax time. When we eat, we must uncover the table and remove all work (Or vice versa!).

It helps to change into home clothes as soon as we arrive and have clearly separate home and work clothes. Never work in bed again! If you take work reading to bed then your mind is focussed on those issues which are not conducive to either relaxing or relating to your partner! Doesn't really boost your sex drive either! Bed is for sleeping, relaxing and other stuff -- not work!

If you work in front of the TV, always have a "working chair" and a "relaxing chair." When you finish work reading, immediately swap to the relaxing chair. Be very precise and rigid about this or you will contaminate the relaxing chair!

If you actually work from home, like many of us do these days, make sure you still have that designated work zone. And try and keep reasonable set work hours and switch off all devices outside of these hours.

Think of other ways you could set your house up as a stress free zone. We may need to decontaminate our car -- so that at weekends we remove all traces of work items so the car is now for fun purposes!

Maybe we could have one or two special outfits for those really tense days -- something comfortable and loved that makes you feel more relaxed and reminds you of good times. The subconscious mind loves symbols and rituals -- use them to your best advantage.

Find a place that recharges your batteries. The beach; a lake; mountain scenery; a lush, green park. A place that when you spend time in it, you walk away feeling refreshed and revitalized. Visit it often!

What about making a stress free centre at work? Nominate one place that has a great view or feel or has something special about it. When you go to this spot, deep breathe and consciously relax. After a while of consciously letting go, your body mind will take over and it begins to happen automatically whenever you go to this spot -- eventually all you will have to do is just look at it or think about it and your body chemistry will calm down!

Amanda Gore

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