Ever feel like it’s tough to slow down and de-stress, despite your best efforts to establish work-life balance, spend time reflecting, or find zen in your weekend yoga class? We’re not surprised — many of us feel like we have to keep up with the pressure that can come with working to move forward in the direction of our dreams, and it can all be a bit too much. So what’s a stressed out, busy girl to do? We talked with Rebecca Dennis, author of And Breathe: The Complete Guide to Conscious Breathing for Health and Happiness ($16), who schooled us in some basic breathing exercises anyone can do to find a sense of calm.

How Intentional Breathing Can Help You Relax

“Breathing is something we all do, and yet, the majority of teenagers and adults let go of their natural ability to breathe fully,” Dennis explains. “We’re actually conditioned early on to control our feelings and emotions, and as a result, our breathing patterns become restricted.” She tells us that learning how to consciously connect our breath is the trick for harmonizing the mind and feeling more relaxed.

“Your brain is constantly streaming data down into your body, and your body is streaming data up to the brain; some of the messages might mislead and take you into ‘fight or flight’ mode by activating the sympathetic nervous system. Conscious breathing can help us rewire and reset our bodies systems.” She tells us examples of feeling “fight or flight” might come when reading emotional news headlines or seeing triggering social posts, looking at an overwhelming to-do list, or even stressing about your schedule. “Your body is designed to go into ‘flight or fight’ mode when it senses you’re in danger or need to fight for your life, and in an increasingly fast-paced world, many people are more stressed and anxious than ever.”

How to Use Your Breath in Stressful Situations

Dennis shared a few basic breathing exercises that’ll help you decompress and get grounded in three common situations:

1. You’ve woken up and can’t fall back to sleep. Waking up feeling confused or overwhelmed seemingly out of nowhere is a terrible feeling — and it can feel impossible to shut your brain off once it starts ruminating about whatever is troubling you. To relax, Dennis suggests a simple breathing exercise you can do while laying in your bed. “Breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and exhale through your mouth for eight seconds. This helps to come out of the mind, slow down the heart rate, and activate the parasympathetic nervous system to bring us into a relaxed state.”

2. You feel nervous before a call or meeting. Getting worked up before a call or meeting might leave you feeling like your heart will beat right out of your chest. “When we feel stressed, our breathing speeds up and we breath more in our chest area,” Dennis explains. “Try to become the observer of your feelings and notice where your breath is. Take some deep diaphragmatic breaths into the belly. Inhale through the nose and out of the mouth with a little pause in between. As you breathe in, expand your belly, and as you exhale, the belly goes in. This will help you to be more focused and centered and bring you back into the moment.” You’ve got this!

3. Opening your inbox brings you a bout of anxiety. Ever open your inbox to find 50+ emails waiting for you? We’ve been there. Fortunately, Dennis has a simple fix for keeping your cool before you start crafting responses. “Close your eyes. Place your thumb over your right nostril and exhale through the left for eight counts. Breathe in through the left nostril and hold for another eight. Now, repeat on the other side. Keep going up to 10 times and notice the difference in your breath.” Not only will you feel much better without all of the anxiety that comes with incoming communication, but you’ll find it easier to respond in an effective way too.

Do you use your breath to deal with stressful situations? Tweet us the details on Twitter @BritandCo.

(Photo via Getty)