Improve your stress and overall health by just breathing

Consider these simple solutions for stress relief.

Where are my keys? What time do I have to pick up the kids? Who can help with this homework? Why do I always have to run errands for my elderly parents? How will I ever manage this unforgiving schedule? All of these pressures and others that you came up with while you were reading this paragraph can affect us in subtle and not so subtle ways. Every human being experience stress, yet some of us are better able or prepared to handle it.

Headaches, stomachaches, sleepless nights, outbursts and anger often accompany stress-filled days in family life. Do any of these symptoms sound familiar? The Mayo Clinic recognizes numerous health problems that can be attributed to stress, including anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, and memory and concentration impairment.

If you feel stressed, you are not alone! It seems that stress is a normal state rather than an occasional issue. The question is what can we do about it? Michigan State University Extension suggests adding some simple practices that can assist in lowering your stress and reaping major benefits for your health.

The first step may just be stopping for a minute to pay attention or to notice. What is happening to your body, thoughts, mood and actions when you’re stressed? The act of noticing gives you an opportunity to pause and take a deep breath. You may want to count slowly as you breathe, following your breath as it goes in and out. Probably the best thing about stopping to notice and breathe is that this practice is free, requires no special training or equipment and can be done absolutely any place.

Make it a priority to take time for yourself every day to stop and relax. It may seem like your daily schedule won’t allow for one more thing, but consider this a prescription for improved health and well-being. Getting up just five minutes earlier each morning to look out the window and breathe deeply may make for a smooth start for a normally chaotic day. There are many free technology apps that can assist you in learning about deep breathing and meditation if you’re not sure where to start. Being able to lower your stress requires some practice on your part and consistency is key, and Harvard Medical School recommends creating a routine for success.

Participants in the Stress Less with Mindfulness program authored by the West Virginia University Extension Service have consistently reported improved well-being following the adoption of some simple mindfulness practices. In addition to learning diaphragmatic breathing techniques, participants experience mindful walking, mindful eating, mindful laughter and other easy techniques that can lower stress and improve overall health.

Additional steps that may assist in lowering stress include getting adequate sleep, adopting good nutrition practices, increasing physical activity, positive self-talk and doing something positive for yourself that gives you pleasure. Even 10-15 minutes of working on a hobby that you love or taking the time to listen to your favorite music, undisturbed, will make a difference. When traveling on a plane, we’re always reminded to put on our own face mask first when an emergency occurs. Consider lowering stress as one way to help yourself so you’ll be better able to help others in your life.

For more on information on caregiving or family issues that affect you and your family, visit the eXtension website.

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