Harnessing your breath can help you manage fight or flight response

Words and photo by Claire Sankey.

THE stress response (‘fight or flight’) is how our body prepares us for danger. It’s initiated when our brain perceives a threat and sends stress hormones into the body to get us ready to fight or run.
However, our brains are not very good at differentiating between real and imagined danger (e.g. anxious thoughts or memories) and so our stress response gets switched on (or ramped up too high) when it isn’t needed, resulting in unnecessary tension in the body and mind.
This build-up of stress can result in anxiety and physical health problems like high blood pressure and a suppressed immune system if left unmanaged.

We all have a powerful, safe and free tool to help us manage stress; the breath. We can harness the power of our breath to teach our body that we are safe so that the stress response can switch off and our relaxation response can switch on.

Using our breath to elicit the relaxation response was first developed in the 1970s at Harvard Medical School by cardiologist Dr Herbert Benson who was largely credited with demystifying meditation.
However, these techniques have been used by yogis and meditators for thousands of years.
Follow these steps to use your breath to support your body in its relaxation response:
● Sit quietly and notice your breathing
● Breathe through your nose if possible
● Breathe deeply into your belly – pushing it in and out so it inflates and deflates like a balloon
● Focus on elongating your exhale. You can count in for 4 and out for 6, 7 or 8
● Continue for a few minutes.
Taking a few minutes to breathe like
this each day will help support you in moving towards lower stress levels and increased well-being.

To learn more about how to manage stress through meditation, mindfulness and breathwork, join Claire’s next 8-week course starting 9 Jan.
Claire Sankey is a mindfulness, yoga and somatics practitioner who teaches individuals and groups to manage stress and anxiety.

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