Just Breathe: The Secret to Handling Stressful Situations

By: Sydney Callahan ’15, University of Maryland Health Center, HEALTH Works Peer Educator
Looking at a peaceful or calming image while practicing deep breathing can help you relieve stress.

Looking at a peaceful or calming image while practicing deep breathing can help you relieve stress. Photo credit: Sydney Callahan

With the semester now in full swing, most of us are constantly talking about how stressed we are and how overwhelmed we are by everything we have to do.

Here is some good news: you are not alone. In fact, data taken from UMD students in 2014 shows that at some point in the last 12 months, 92% of students felt overwhelmed by all they had to do; 81.1% felt exhausted (not from physical activity); and 42.7% said that they had experienced more than average stress.

Here is some bad news: stress can have an immediate and long term impact on our health and wellness. The list of negative effects from stress goes on and on, but here are some examples:

Immediate effects of stress:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Acne
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Rashes/hives
  • Panic attacks
  • Difficulty concentrating

Long term effects of stress:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Heart attack
  • Diabetes
  • Ulcers
  • Stroke

Here is some more good news: there may be only one thing you need to learn how to do in order to avoid many of these negative effects of stress.

Many people will tell you that this one thing is to get a planner, or make a to-do list, or maybe even re-evaluate all of the extracurricular activities you do and get rid of one. While these are all great suggestions and if one of those works for you then stick with it, but I have one thing that may help you get through any stressful situation, not just academics—now and for the rest of your life: deep breathing.

When we become stressed we usually breathe short and shallow breaths from our chest, but deep breathing can help lower our heart rate and blood pressure in order to control our stress.

Here are the 6 simple steps of deep breathing:

  1. Sit in a comfortable chair. Close your eyes if you want.
  2. Put one hand on your belly and relax your muscles.
  3. Expand your belly, breathing in through your nose and feel your belly rise about half an inch.
  4. Feel your belly fall as you slowly exhale through your mouth.
  5. Allow yourself to feel more relaxed with every breath. If thoughts drift into your mind, let them drift back out and focus on your breathing.
  6. Repeat for about 10 breaths and then open your eyes.

Deep breathing is one of the most effective ways to immediately relieve stress.

When you feel yourself starting to get stressed out, then follow the steps above until you feel calm. Also, feel free to try a couple of different things to maximize the stress relieving benefits of deep breathing. Some people like to listen to peaceful music or a recording of nature sounds while practicing deep breathing and others enjoy looking at a peaceful picture.

And remember, don’t forget to reach out when you need to! Ask your friends and family for help if you think your stress level is negatively impacting your life and you are having trouble controlling it using just the steps above. If you want to talk to someone more privately, stop by the Counseling Center, make an appointment with Mental Health Services or sign up for Relaxation Training at the University Health Center.

Share your ideas! What helps you relax while practicing deep breathing?

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