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It’s been said there are only two things we can be certain about: death and taxes. Well, we think it’s about time to add stress to that list. The truth is, if you’re alive, you’ve got stress. Stress is a natural reaction to experiences that can have a wide array of effects. We usually think of stress in a negative way, but it can actually be useful in bad or dangerous situations. (Think fight-or-flight response.)

Unfortunately, stress isn’t typically so good. While it can be beneficial to us in the short term, chronic stress can cause a number of symptoms that affect our health and wellness. The hormones that get triggered can lead to anything from digestive disorders to depression to higher risks for heart disease.

It can be easy for everyday troubles to set off these hormones. When you start to feel yourself getting tense, put your health first by trying one of these breathing techniques for stress relief. Each of these are perfect for beginners (ie: you don’t have to have years of yoga under your belt in order to do them correctly) and they can be done quietly in almost any location.

Abdominal Breathing
Place your right hand on your chest and your left hand on your stomach. Fill up your lower lungs (not your chest), being mindful to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Do this eight to 10 times, then add a second step: After inhaling into your lower lungs, continue inhaling into your chest. Feel the tension leave your body as you exhale slowly. Do this another 10 times. This technique can lead to an immediate reduction in heart rate and blood pressure, and could be particularly useful before a stressful event.

Progressive Relaxation
Close your eyes and focus on tensing and relaxing individual muscle groups. Start at the bottom of your body with your toes and feet, moving up until you reach the face and jaw. Do this while maintaining deep, slow breaths. As the muscles tense, breathe in through your nose for a count of five (start at three if five feels too difficult), then breathe out through your mouth as the muscles release. This technique is wonderful for nixing tension from head to toe, and can be done nearly anywhere even while driving.

Breath Counting
Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight and your head just slightly forward. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Let them come naturally without trying to manipulate them. Next, breathe in through your nose, then count to one as you exhale through your mouth. Repeat, counting to two as you exhale, and so on up to five. (Don’t worry about counting while you inhale.) Once you’ve reached five, begin a new cycle. Continue to start new cycles after reaching five, until your mind has wandered to the point that you find yourself counting up to eight or more. This breathing technique should have the same effect as meditation, leaving you centered and refreshed.

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