In their 2017 research review, Chadi G Abdallah and Paul Geha question if chronic pain and chronic stress are two sides of the same coin. But what does this mean? Well, the authors identify that the two phenomena overlap in important ways – both conceptually and physiologically.
Many people with chronic conditions like arthritis or migraine pinpoint stress as a common trigger for flare-ups. Moreover, a chronic condition – and the pain, discomfort and interference it presents – creates higher levels of stress. Stress, therefore, can be both a symptom and a cause.
Breaking the pain-stress cycle is tough, but with the right management techniques, it is possible to regain control. We all cope with stress in different ways. Some of us benefit from connecting with people while others like to challenge ourselves by setting goals or becoming immersed in a hobby. Crucially, to address stress, we need to avoid unhealthy habits, eat well, stay active and get adequate sleep.
In addition to this, there are various alternative stress relief methods to explore – from meditation, yoga and tai chi to biofeedback, aromatherapy, counselling and the ultimate stress buster – breathing.
Breathing is an automatic, involuntary function controlled subconsciously by the brain’s respiratory centre. Our breathing rate and pattern change when we experience certain emotions. When we’re calm, our nervous system is in a relaxed state and we breathe at a slower pace, however, when we become excited, anxious, stressed, panicked or afraid, our breath usually quickens. This is all part of the body’s ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response.
We have the power to change and control our own breathing, and many scientific studies have shown that this process can promote relaxation and reduce stress. Here are 4 breathing exercises (pranayamas) for stress relief you can try anywhere, anytime!
Before you begin a breathing exercise, find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down. If you choose to sit, keep your back straight and your feet flat on the ground. If you’re lying down on your bed, lay flat with a pillow under your head and knees.
When it comes to incorporating breathing techniques into your daily routine, it’s entirely up to you. There’s no fixed rule. However, a lot of people swear by a morning breathing practice as it can set you up for the day feeling energised, calm and refreshed. Evening wind-downs are also popular. If your stress triggers come at a particular time of the day – a work meeting, for example – you can prepare yourself with a breathing technique prior to the encounter.
According to mindfulness app Headspace, breath counting is the perfect breathing exercise for beginners. It’s simple yet effective.
Deep breathing, also known as abdominal breathing, belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing, is one of the most well-known breathing stress relief exercises. It will teach you how to take deep, bigger breaths, all the way into your belly.
You can watch this deep breathing exercise demonstration from John Hopkins Rheumatology.
Alternate nostril breathing is a common yoga and meditation breath control practice. In Sanskrit, it’s known as nadi shodhana pranayama, which translates as “subtle energy clearing breathing technique.”
Check out this alternate nostril breathing exercise demonstration from intosport.
Lion’s breath is a unique breathing exercise that focuses on the exhale of the breath. It helps you relax, let go and have some fun. As the name suggests, this type of breathwork allows you to embrace your inner lion. Don’t be afraid to roar!
Here’s a lion’s breath YouTube demonstration from Yoga International.
We hope you enjoy these stress-busting breathing techniques! If you suffer from chronic pain, you can also explore our range of fast-acting To Better Days active patches, which combine vitamin D and dextrose to provide topical, targeted pain relief. There are various sizes for big joints and small joints, as well as Migraine Recovery Patches, featuring vitamin D, ginger extract, chamomile extract and lavender powder.