Have you ever been so stressed and overwhelmed that your mind is buzzing, you’re running around frantically, and your heart is fluttering a little uncontrollably? I’ve definitely been there. Sometimes, the stress levels get so high that any attempt at relaxing makes you even more agitated.
The most effective thing to do? Breathe.
Yes, breathe. I know, maybe you were expecting, or hoping for, something different. But there is real power in taking long, deep, cleansing breaths.
Taking in enough oxygen is something that we forget to do more often than not, and when we’re stressed, we practically hold our breath by default. Remembering to take a few deep breaths when you’re overwhelmed can help you relax almost instantly, and there’s scientific proof to back that up. Deep breathing calms the nervous system and helps you move from “fight or flight” to calm ocean breeze.
Sometimes, when I’m really stressed and my breath feels a little constricted – and good ol’ deep breathing just won’t cut it – I do something called alternate nostril breathing, or Nadhi Shodhan pranayama in Sanskrit. This is a breathing technique I tried in my very first yoga class years ago, and I still turn to it when all else fails. It instantly helps to melt my stress away – I honestly don’t know why I don’t do it more often!
Those of you who’ve never tried it before (um, if you’re still reading?) are probably feeling skeptical right now, but I promise it’s not as weird as it sounds – or looks. You don’t need to sit in a cross-legged position on the floor to do it (but you definitely can if you like!), and you don’t need to be a yogi to try it. In my opinion, it’s the most effective fix for when you’re overwhelmed.
What it does
How to do it
You can turn to this technique as stress arises, or practice it on a regular basis before bed to help you wind down and release any remaining tension from the day. You can start off by keeping your eyes open if you like, and as you get used to it, start practicing with your eyes closed.
1. Sit down in a comfortable position on a chair, on the floor, or in bed.
2. Take a few deep breaths through both nostrils to get yourself situated.
3. When you’re ready, take your right hand, palm facing toward you, and press down your index and middle fingers toward your palm.
4. Hold down your right nostril with your thumb and breathe in deeply through your left for a count of four.
5. Place your ring finger over your left nostril and pause for a beat before removing your thumb from your right nostril, and breathing out of it completely. Breathe in through your right nostril (again, try counting to four) before sealing both nostrils and switching back to your left.
6. Breathe out through your left nostril slowly, following it with an inhale.
6. This makes one cycle of alternate nostril breathing. Repeat as many times as needed.
If that didn’t make any sense, I totally get it (and offer my sincerest apologies!). So if you’d prefer to sit down and have someone’s voice and instruction walk you through it, I’d recommend checking out this video on alternate nostril breathing by a qualified yoga instructor.
I hope that you try this out sometime and find it helpful for coping with stress. Let me know if you have any other tips for instant destressing!