Join our community of over 1900 students learning to manage stress better!
Umm, I think I already know how to breathe.
Yes, almost certainly. And you also know that when you are stressed or anxious your breathing changes. These shifts can feed forward and produce additional symptoms of stress, including lightheadedness, dizziness, chest pressure, a tendency to increase muscle tension, and paresthesias (numbness and tingling in the extremities).
The stress response developed to help us cope with marauding tigers, but it also switches on when we're confronted with an angry boss, screaming kids, orthat lookfrom our partner. It produces changes in various parts of our body that we're not used to controlling directly. It would be great to have a handle we could use to ramp stress down - something influenced by stress but over which we also have clear conscious control. That handle is proper breathing.
This course provides instruction in four-stage breathing, an exercise designed to activate the diaphragm, enhance awareness of the distinction between diaphragmatic and intercostal breathing, and provide a strategy you can use to enhance your control over the stress response. You'll start out practicing when you're calm and relaxed, then use it in gradually more difficult situations, until you can practice in the middle of that challenging business meeting - and no one will be the wiser.
You'll get a series of twelve brief lectures, plus downloadable PDF text material on diaphragmatic breathing exercises and how to link your practice to stressful situations.
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Welcome to the course. A bit about your instructor, and a rationale for learning to work with one's breathing. Some cautions for those with breathing related disorders.
Why lungs can't inflate and deflate on their own. The muscle groups responsible for breathing, and how to tell which ones you are using at any given time.
An introduction to the world's cheapest form of biofeedback: your hands. A two minute exercise to see how you breathe naturally.
The relationship between breathing and stress. Other stress-related symptoms. Why focus on breathing if so many other things are changing too?
This nine-page document discusses the nature of the stress response - with an emphasis on how and why the response developed and what happens in your body when it becomes active.
A two minute exercise in which we shut down the diaphragm and breathe only using the intercostal muscles, watching what happens when we do so.
An interesting design glitch in the human body, and why breathing into a paper bag might just work if you feel like you are suffocating. We have a better plan than a paper bag coming up, however.
Here we deliberately breathe using the diaphragm, comparing the volume of each breath with the volume attained using intercostal breathing.
Time to put it all together and conduct four-stage breathing. A practice session and some troubleshooting. You also get a summary handout pdf.
This document summarizes what you've learned so far, and provides tips on using the four-stage breathing exercise.
Now that you know the exercise, how and where do you practice? A strategy for learning in the easiest possible setting and position, then making it more challenging.
Once you've been practicing for a while, you can use the exercise in situations that normally cause you to increase your tension level, changing the cue to a signal to relax instead. Plus: Two exercise sheets to help you plan this work.
This written exercise invites you to consider the various symptoms of stress you commonly experience, and the sequence in which they develop. You can use early symptoms as cues to intervene using the breathing procedure.
Everyone experiences certain repetitive situations that routinely elicit the stress response: arriving at work, attending the monthly meeting, having to talk in front of the condo committee, meeting new people. In this written exercise you list some of the most common situations that stress you out, then select just one or two (to begin with) before which you pledge to practice the breathing skill. Once you are good at these, you can add others.
A few final words and recommendations for ongoing practice.
An optional guided four-minute practice session, intended to be used only a few times (if at all) before you practice on your own, away from your computer.
Randy Paterson is a psychologist and author in Vancouver Canada. His most recent book is the popular How to be Miserable: 40 Strategies You Already Use. He is the Director of Changeways Clinic and writes a blog called PsychologySalon. His work emphasizes the treatment of problems related to stress, anxiety, depression, and significant life change. His previous books include The Assertiveness Workbook, Private Practice Made Simple, and Your Depression Map, as well as a variety of resources and protocols for mental health practitioners. He conducts workshops on mental health issues for the public and for mental health professionals within Canada and internationally.