Holiday Stress? Soft Belly Breathing can help!

Dec 03, 2013 by Lora Matz, LICSW

Did you know that we have a powerful nerve in our body that is called “the super highway of information?”  It is the Vagus nerve and goes from our stomach to our brain. One of its many jobs is to monitor stress. Whenever stress is triggered by outward events or even our worry, this system turns on like an alarm.  If our belly is tight, it sends a message to the brain to turn on the alarm which turns on the stress response-emergency system.

If our stomach is soft-it sends a message to the brain to turn off the emergency system and turn on the relaxation system.  By using slow, soft belly breathing, you are helping the Vagus nerve to communicate a message to your brain, which helps your whole body and your emotions to feel more in balance. It is a way to quickly find the brakes and get back in charge so you don’t feel as though stress is ruling you.  Slow, deep breathing is a great way to help your body and your mind relax, which helps to reduce anxiety.

  1. Put your hand on your stomach.
  2. Take a slow, easy breath in through your nose and feel your stomach rise.
  3. Let the breath out by breathing slowly through your mouth and feel your stomach go down.

Keep practicing these slow deep breaths.  You might want to imagine your stomach is like a balloon, getting bigger when you breathe in, and smaller when you breathe out.  Or you might think the word “soft” when you breathe in and the word “belly,” or “letting go” when you breathe out.  Gradually let the exhale or out part of your breathing get longer, so that eventually you are breathing out twice as long as you breathe in.

Holidays can be stressful, the good news is the stress doesn’t have to rule us if we are willing to find the brakes by activating the powerful Vagus nerve with deep, slow and intentional breaths.  The good news is, it doesn’t cost a thing and can be done anywhere once you get the hang of it.  Our body is so much wiser than we know and knows how to balance itself perfectly when we take the time to relax.  This holiday season, slow down, take deep breaths and be thankful for your amazing nervous system and body.

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