Being constantly stressed is stressful for most people in the long run. Unfortunately, everyday stress is not always avoidable. In addition to eliminating potential triggers, one approach is to learn stress reduction techniques. It often includes breathing exercises. A study also found that a certain type of breathing not only reduces stress but also increases well-being better than meditation.
First of all, stress is not necessarily negative. Evolutionarily speaking, it works to counter dangerous situations. Many people are now in a constant state of stress with negative consequences for their health. That’s why it’s important to work out how you handle stressful situations and develop strategies to put your body into regeneration mode. Mindfulness exercises or meditation exercises can help here. However, not many people can do anything with meditation. There’s especially good news for this group: As one study showed, a simple breathing trick that can be incorporated into everyday life also works well against stress: it’s called the “periodic sigh.” Apparently, this breathing method works better than mindfulness meditation alone when you’re stressed. FITBOOK EXPLAINS HOW IT WORKS.
Breathing exercises versus mindfulness training
For the US study conducted by Stanford University, 114 subjects were recruited.1 The study participants were divided into four groups: three groups performed breathing exercises, the fourth group performed mindfulness meditation exercises. The trial period lasted 28 days, with each group doing the exercises for just five minutes per day. The following breathing exercises were performed:
- Set 1: Periodic sigh. Inhale twice in a row, then exhale consciously more slowly. Double inhalation occurs one after the other without exhalation in between.
- Group 2: Also known in German as square breathing, “box breathing” consists of four phases of equal length, usually three to five seconds long: inhale, hold your breath, exhale, hold your breath.
- Group 3: “cyclic hyperventilation” means periodic hyperventilation. This is a long inhale and a short exhale. This leads to hyperventilation.
- Group 4: Meditation exercises, which are not explained in more detail in the study description.
Also interesting: how mindfulness training helps you deal better with stress
This is how periodic vision works
Breathing exercises are more effective than pure meditation
At the end of the trial period, about 90 percent of the study participants reported feeling comfortable performing the exercises. Plus, 96 percent of the people tested found the video instructions very easy. Interestingly, the breathing groups seemed to find it easier to keep up with the meditation group. The latter performed the exercises an average of 17.7 of the 28 days, while the groups doing the breathing exercises lasted about two days longer, an average of 19.6 days.
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Every day, the participants had to record in a stress diary how they felt before and after the exercise in question. At the same time, the data from the fitness bracelet obtained by everyone was evaluated. Among others, information on sleep quality, respiratory rate, heart rate, and heart rate variability were considered.
Evaluation of the diaries and data collected using the fitness bracelet showed that in each of the groups, well-being improved after exercise. In general, the breathing exercises were more effective than mindfulness meditation alone. Above all, however, positive effects increased with greater compliance with the testing protocol. These include the following improvements:
- Decreased breathing rate
- Decreased heart rate
- An improvement in heart rate variability
- Reducing anxiety states, which describe a subjective feeling of tension and manifest through a state of increased arousal in the autonomic nervous system.
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Periodic sighing as a breathing trick against stress
One group in particular stood out: the participants who practiced cyclic sighing. They also showed significant physiological effects over time, such as a decreased respiratory rate. The researchers concluded that this type of controlled breathing is more effective against stress than, for example, mindfulness meditation.
So you can talk about a breathing trick against stress. On awakenings, it is helpful to step back for a few minutes and consciously practice this simple breathing exercise: breathe deeply twice in a row and then exhale for a longer time. The positive effect is not only acute, but according to the study, it also has a lasting effect on stress perception. A very simple exercise that can be done almost anywhere. Even at your desk in the office or behind the wheel in a traffic jam, you don’t have to do much more than focus on your breathing and lengthen the exhalation phase. After just a few minutes, the world should look better.
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