Picture the last time you were really stressed. Maybe you were in a rush to pick up the kids and were stuck in heavy traffic or were riding precariously close to an important deadline. Maybe you were bearing the brunt of a customer or client with temper and/or control problems.
Whatever it was, can you remember how you were breathing? Probably not so easily. Breathing was likely not the focus of your attention at that moment. But notice what happens when you start to think about that situation - how are you breathing?
If you're able to really put yourself back there, in your mind's eye, you'll notice your breathing become faster, shallower, more constricted, and centred more in the chest than in the belly. When we're anxious, our breathing speeds up. It's a means for the body to get ready for quick action to respond to stressful situations. In this case, emotion drives a physiological reaction.
But did you know that breathing and emotion are actually reciprocal? Not only will emotions cause physiological changes, but physiological changes can influence emotion.
We can take advantage of this fact and use it as a means of controlling stress since we have control over one aspect of our physiology - breathing! By slow and deliberate breathing, we can control the physiological stress response, decreasing stress hormone release and bringing our higher-level thinking centres back online.
So the next time you're stressed, take slow, deep breaths. You might be surprised at the result.