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When you're trying to keep calm under stress, the common phrase, "relax lah, take a deep breath!" is good advice to follow.

You probably know that stress affects the way we breathe.

When we're anxious, we typically draw quick, shallow breaths as our body prepares itself to fight or run away from danger: whether you're facing a tiger or feeling kan cheong over a tight deadline, your body views both as stressful threats.

But believe it or not, the relationship between stress and breathing patterns could also go the other way. How we breathe can also affect the way we feel, and the way we handle stressful situations.

Let's check out how deep breathing helps use relax, and learn some deep breathing techniques we can use in times of need.


Deep Breathing

Breathing deeply from your abdomen can help create longer and slower brain waves similar to those produced by your brain when you are relaxed. As such, practising correct deep breathing techniques can help calm you down.

Step 1

Put your right hand at the belly button of your abdomen and your left hand on the centre of your chest.

Step 2

Take a deep breath slowly through your nose, counting from 1 to 4 to yourself silently. You should feel your abdomen rise with your right hand as your lungs fill with air. Your left hand on your chest should not move much.

Step 3

Breathe out slowly through your nose counting backwards from 4 to 1 silently.

Step 4

Repeat steps 2 and 3 a few times until you feel relaxed.

Don't worry if you can't get it right the first few tries, it takes time to correct lifelong breathing habits. Practise deep breathing often: in the shower, at your desk, just before you go to bed... You'll get better!

The next time you're in a situation where you feel the stress building, take a pause, close your eyes, and practise deep breathing.

It'll help you clear your head and calm you down so you have a chance to think and collect yourself to work out a solution.

Related: 8 Quick Things You Can Do To De-Stress Right Now


Progressive Muscle Relaxation

This exercise can teach you to be more aware of the parts of your body with especially tense muscles and learn how to relieve them of stress. It involves tensing and releasing the pressure in different muscles in a top-down approach starting from your eyes to your feet, thus allowing you to achieve deeper relaxation progressively. You should wear loose clothing and position yourself comfortably in a chair.

Follow the instructions in the table below:

  • Concentrate on only one target part of your body (starting from the eyebrow) at one time and do steps 1 to 3.

  • Go on to the next target part of your body and repeat steps 1 to 3.

  • Continue until you reach the final target part of your body.

Target Part of your Body

Step 1: Create Tension for 10 Seconds

Step 2: Hold Tension for 10 Seconds

Step 3: Relax Tension

Eyebrow

Raise it as high as possible.

Eyes

Shut them tightly.

Teeth

Clench them tightly.

Face

Squeeze your eyes mouth and nose together.

Neck and Shoulders

Bring your chin slowly toward your chest.

Right Hand and Right Arm

Create a tight fist with your right hand and raise your right arm to the height of your shoulder and stretch it as far as you can.

Let your right arm fall to your side.

Left Hand and Left Arm

Create a tight fist with your left hand and raise your left arm to the height of your shoulder and stretch it as far as you can.

Let your left arm fall to your side.

Both Hands and Both Arms

Create a tight fist with your hands and raise your arms to the height of your shoulder and stretching them all the way out.

Let your arms fall to your side.

Stomach

Pull your stomach muscles in.

Right Leg

Raise your right leg, tensing your thigh and calf muscles as you pull your toes back towards you.

Let your right leg down.

Left Leg

Raise your left leg, tensing your thigh and calf muscles as you pull your toes back towards you.

Let your left leg down.

Both Legs

Raise your legs, tightening your thigh and calf muscles as you extend your toes forward as far as possible.

Let your legs down.

Legend

✓ means to do the action specified in the respective steps. Words are used in place of '✓' in some parts of the table to make the meaning clearer.

Precautions

These exercises are for people without any pre-existing medical contraindications and/or restrictions in physical activities. Please consult a doctor or physiotherapist for more advice on the suitability of the exercises for you.


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