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Using Your Breath to Fight Stress and Improve Well-Being

Author: Jenna Beneck

If you are looking for simple ways to fight stress then regulating your breathing can help. Our breath is a natural and most important function of life and carries our chi or vital life energy. It is a known fact that if we stop breathing for long enough, then we die. 

Despite this fact, most of us take our breathing for granted and rarely stop to think about it. Find out how breathing properly can help to relieve symptoms of stress and calm and relax your mind.

When we are stressed, our body responds in preparation for "fight or flight" and we suffer various symptoms such as sweating, increased pulse rate, racing heart, and fast, shallow breathing. 

In earlier times this was necessary for our survival when hunting or protecting ourselves. However today it is usually only our perception of danger or negative thoughts that produce this reaction, so the body has few ways to deal with the effects.

Regular attacks of stress and anxiety start to turn our fast, shallow breathing into a habit. They may decrease our ability to breathe properly and could leave us with breathing difficulties such as hyperventilation or asthma. 

Often in today's society, we do little aerobic exercise and therefore we rarely breathe deeply. Our breathing simply becomes shallower than it needs to be as a matter of habit.

Just as stress and other states of mind affect our breathing, the way that we breathe affects our state of mind. When we breathe, we are taking in oxygen through the lungs to the brain and the cells in the body. 

Shallow breathing can affect the amount of oxygen circulating in the body. This makes us feel sluggish. The way we breathe also affects the amount of energy in our bodies. When our breathing is irregular and erratic, we are likely to feel lacking in energy.

Of course, it is not just the body that is affected by the way that we breathe but the mind also. For centuries disciplines such as yoga and meditation have involved using the breath as part of their techniques. Use of the breath is an important part of performing yoga postures.

Breathing meditation is common to calm the mind as part of preparative practices for meditation. Breathing meditation consists of watching the breath as we breathe in and out whilst trying to ignore all other distractions to the best of our ability. Concentrating on the breath has long been known to quiet and calm the mind.

In the same way as used in meditation, breathing exercises can be used to fight stress and quiet the mind and body. These are great because they are simple and free and you can do them anywhere. Simply concentrating on our breathing whilst drawing deeper, slower breaths can help us to relieve stress and relax our minds. 

Breathe deeply through your nose and feel your diaphragm move. Watch the breathe coming in and going out. Try to ignore all other distractions. Make sure, however, that you don't breathe so deeply that you get light headed.

When you breathe, allow yourself to enjoy the experience of being a living being. Mostly we forget to do this and move through life very unconsciously. 

When we can quiet our minds we can find peace and receive insights and access to our subconscious. Only when we become conscious of how we breathe, can we start to correct this.

So, to fight stress and find more energy, try watching your breath to make sure you are breathing efficiently. Get into the habit of taking deeper breaths. 

Improve your breathing through breathing exercises and regular aerobic exercise. Breathing properly will help you to cope with stress and improve your well-being.

Meditation is a powerful tool to aid stress relief and well-being. Used regularly it can help you to clear and calm your mind. Try the easiest way to meditate with a brainwave entrainment meditation download and experience the benefits for yourself. For further help in dealing with stress get more information on how to fight stress.

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Using Aromatherapy to Help Fight Stress

Author: Jenna Beneck

Did you know that you can use aromatherapy as part of your coping strategies for stress? Whilst some are sceptical about the power of alternative therapies to help and heal, aromatherapy has been shown in studies to help fight stress. Read on to find out how you can use aromatherapy to calm and relieve your stress and its symptoms.

Aromatherapy is a method of using scents or aromas, generally produced from plant essential oils, to create balance and healing in the body and mind. Think for a moment about the power of smell. 

Have you ever been overtaken by a scent that took you straight back to a past memory or reminded you of a person who is long since out of your life? Our sense of smell is very powerful and can produce impressive effects in the body and mind.

Aromatherapy works by stimulating our sense of smell, through the olfactory nerves in our nose. This affects our limbic system which is the part of the brain which regulates our moods, emotions and behaviour. 

This part of our brain also exerts control over our hormones and stress levels. It is thought to have evolved to manage our fight or flight response, an essential part of our reaction to stress.

It is therefore not surprising that scents can have a powerful effect on state of mind and emotions and, therefore, that certain essential oils should be effective in treating certain states of mind, such as stress. The main method of aromatherapy treatment is by inhalation which invokes the response in the brain specified above. 

And if our mind is responsible for producing the symptoms of stress in the body, then improving our state of mind can only help our stress symptoms. Studies have shown inhalation of essential oils to reduce blood pressure, pulse rate, subjective stress, anxiety and cortisol levels (the "stress hormone").[1][2]

Research has shown that our brainwaves are affected by aromatherapy. The frequency of our brainwaves corresponds to our state of activity or relaxation. For example, a brain actively engaged in mental activities would be generating beta brainwaves, whereas alpha brainwaves would indicate a more relaxed state of mind.

John Steele and Robert Tisserand showed that when calming oils are inhaled, they alter our brainwaves to a pattern of calmness[3]. Lavender has been found to produce the effect of alpha brainwaves. To relieve stress we would want to relax and it is no coincidence that Lavender is one of the most cited essential oils for stress relief.

Another method of applying aromatherapy is through topical application, directly onto the skin. The oils are absorbed into the body through the skin and there is evidence that the chemical compounds contained within have antibacterial and antioxidant properties and a beneficial effect on various tissues.

So, how can we best use aromatherapy to reduce our stress levels? Well, anything that is scented with an aroma that is known to help relax the mind should be able to help, although to a degree, the scents that relax us can be subjective. However, some of the fragrances which are most soothing for stress relief are lavender, camomile, sandalwood and ylang-ylang.

Adding aromatherapy oils to our bath can increase the relaxation benefits that we gain due to inhalation of the oils. Oils can also be inhaled via oil burners, on a tissue or using incense. You can also find candles, room fragrances and pillow sprays especially sold as stress relief products. And there are even scented "stress relief wraps" to apply, hot or cold, as compresses to stressed, tired muscles and joints.

Another fantastic way of relieving stress with aromatherapy is using massage. Professional massages will generally involve the use of aromatherapy oils, tailored to any symptoms from which you are suffering. You can also "do it yourself". There are ready mixed stress relief massage oils available or you can mix your own by following a formula which you find in a book or on the internet.

So, now that you know that aromatherapy has been shown to relieve symptoms of stress and help sufferers, why not try it in your own campaign to fight stress. Make it a part of your regular stress coping strategies and see how much it can help you.

References - 1. The effects of the inhalation method using essential oils on blood pressure and stress responses of clients with essential hypertension, Hwang JH, Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi. 2006 Dec;36(7):1123-34. - 2. Smelling lavender and rosemary increases free radical scavenging activity and decreases cortisol level in saliva, Atsumi T, Tonosaki K, Psychiatry Res. 2007 Feb 28;150(1):89-96. Epub 2007 Feb 7. 3. John Steele (aromatic consultant) from Wikipedia

For relief from tension and anxiety, check out these coping strategies for stress that can help you devise a plan to cope with and manage stress. Alternatively, for more ways to manage and relieve stress, find out more about how to fight stress.

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