When you feel the holiday-related stress start to creep up, instead of reaching for another gingerbread cookie from the cookie jar, taking a deep breath might be your saving grace. Breathing is a natural process, but we can practice diaphragmatic breathing, also known as deep breathing, to manage our stress levels. In times of stress, our breathing becomes shallow and rapid, but consciously drawing out the breath fills our lungs and belly with air, which ultimately leaves us feeling calm and at peace.
Whether you want to follow a guided meditation, or simply set aside a few minutes to inhale and exhale, breathwork will help you survive all of the festivities by making the holiday season less frantic and more jolly. If you’re looking for the gift that keeps on giving, developing a deep breathing practice will provide you with numerous mental and physical health benefits that will last long after the holidays are over.
1. Combats stress and anxiety
Whenever the brain perceives a dangerous threat, it evokes the body’s fight-or-flight response. This activates the sympathetic nervous system, which gives you a burst of adrenaline and releases cortisol, the stress hormone. An increase in stress is necessary in life-threatening situations but not in daily occurrences like entering a jam-packed holiday party or walking down the aisles of a department store. By breathing deeply from the diaphragm, you can stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, which will slow down your heart rate, lower your blood pressure and tell your brain to relax. Taking a few deep breaths also releases endorphins and serotonin, which are responsible for feeling happy, so you might actually be able to enjoy the holidays this year.
2. Lowers blood pressure
Filling your body with fresh, crisp air slows down your heart rate, which will lead to a decline in your blood pressure. High blood pressure is a risk factor associated with developing heart disease, so breathing deeply will help manage the stress of the holidays and improve your long-term health.
3. Alleviates physical pain
If the pressure of hosting a spectacular holiday party makes you want to curl up in the fetal position, you will probably start to take short and quick breaths from your chest. This constricted breathing pattern makes the muscles contract, so your shoulders might tense up and your back may start to ache. Taking long, deep breaths fills the body with extra oxygen so that your muscles can open up and relax.
4. Boosts the immune system
With the holidays quickly approaching, the temperatures have already begun to drop. If you want to avoid the dreaded cold and flu season that peaks in the winter, breathing from your diaphragm may be the remedy for you. Deep breathing will help your immune system function optimally and will better protect your body from bacteria, viruses and other illnesses that may prevent you from partaking in the holiday fun.
5. Improves digestion
Overloading on hot chocolate and candy canes can definitely wreak havoc on your digestive system. But diaphragmatic breathing allows more blood to flow through your body, so the intestines and other organs can work properly. For those who have chronic intestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome, mindfulness practices that employ deep breathing techniques can manage the symptoms.
6. Removes toxins
Not only can all of the sugary holiday snacks disrupt your digestion, but it can also make you feel like you’re in need of a major detox. Breathing is responsible for 70 percent of the body’s system for releasing toxins. When you breathe from your chest, other systems in your body have to work harder to expel the toxins. But, when you breathe from your diaphragm, you release carbon dioxide, which is natural waste from the body’s metabolism. Breathwork makes this detox system much more effective, so you can reconsider that post-holiday diet.
7. Enhances sleep
With the craziness of the holidays, you might find yourself skimping on shut eye and tossing and turning all night. Doing a breathing exercise, like progressively relaxing your muscles or repeating a mantra with each inhale, can improve the quality of your sleep so that you feel well-rested throughout the holidays. In one study, those with insomnia slept more soundly and restfully when they completed a mindfulness meditation program.
8. Increases focus
If you find yourself unable to decide if you should go with white or colorful lights for the Christmas tree, you could benefit from breathwork. The brain needs oxygen to function properly, so taking in more oxygen while breathing deeply can aid in heightened focus, clearer thinking and better decision making.
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