Stress and the mind-body connection
Everyone experiences stress and anxiety at one time or another. The difference between them is that stress is a response to a threat in a situation. Anxiety is a reaction to the stress.
Whether in good times or bad, most people say that stress interferes at least moderately with their lives. Chronic stress can affect your health, causing symptoms from headaches, high blood pressure, and chest pain to heart palpitations, skin rashes, and loss of sleep.
It’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of stress and anxiety and learn some skills to cope with them. You can learn how to reduce their impact and manage your symptoms.
Physical activity is a proven way to reduce stress. Regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, and improve sleep and self-esteem. Other effective methods include mind-body practices of breathing exercises, yoga, and meditation.
The Mind-Body Connection
Mind-body practices are known to reduce stress and anxiety. One such practice is coherent breathing, according to Richard P. Brown, MD; Patricia L. Gerbarg, MD; and Philip R. Muskin, MD, the authors of the book How To Use Herbs, Nutrients & Yoga in Mental Health Care. Describing it “a modern adaptation of the ancient practice of breathing at approximately five breaths per minute,” the authors recommend this type of breathing to reduce anxiety, insomnia, depression, and other disorders.“A simple breathing practice called “ocean breathing” creates a feeling of deep relaxation,” says Dr. Gerbarg. Ocean breathing is breathing slowly through your nostrils about four heartbeats in and four heartbeats out, listening to the rhythm.
“It’s one of the easiest ways to raise our energy,” says Dr. Brown. “It helps us deal with stress and recharge from stress when we’re in stress overdrive and brings us into better balance again.”
Coherent breathing is safe for everyone—children, older adults, people with medical illnesses, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. But rapid or forceful breath practices are different and people with bipolar disorder, panic disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder should not practice them because they can cause agitation.
A well-known and often popular mind-body practice is yoga. Many people who take yoga classes report improvements in mood and well-being, according to the authors. Yoga, they explain, “reduces anxiety, overreactivity, and sleep difficulties.” It helps people “learn how to master anxiety through self-soothing,” which they say often leads to reduced dependence on therapy or medication.