To change your stress levels, begin with the two B’s – balance and breathing.
“We don’t have to be stressed throughout the day,” said Dr. David Ferguson with Fox Army Health Center’s behavioral health department. “We have some control. When you’re making a physiological change, it’s going to affect your overall stress level and your overall health.”
In a world where everything from sequestration to finances, family, work and even just getting behind the wheel can ramp up a person’s stress levels, Fox Army Health Center’s Behavioral Health Team is there to help, offering quarterly classes to teach members of Team Redstone how to cope with and manage stress. Ferguson spoke to attendees Feb. 27 about the importance of finding balance in one’s life and breathing exercises designed to bring the level of stress a person experiences down throughout the day.
“If you think of 0 to 10 being a stress range, it doesn’t harm us when we get to a 10 – what harms us is if we stay at a 10 or a 9,” Ferguson said. “When you do something like a breathing exercise, you’re taking it down, you’re putting a break in the middle of that stress.”
For a fast fix when tensions rise, individuals should focus on their breathing, aiming to breathe deeply six times over the course of a minute – five seconds spent inhaling, five seconds spent exhaling, repeated six times. To make sure you’re achieving the deepest breath possible, place your hand on your abdomen and feel it expand as you breathe in. If your abdomen isn’t expanding outward, you’re not breathing deep enough. Beginners may find it difficult to inhale for all of five seconds, and may even get dizzy, Ferguson said, but with practice, will get better and better at deep breathing.
“This isn’t something you go home and do 15 minutes in the evening, this is something you do throughout the day, when you’re sitting at your desk,” Ferguson said.
When there is a change in breathing, the body is allowed to relax, which produces changes in the blood and circulation. This, in turn, decreases the amount of pressure the heart requires to circulate the blood throughout the body, causing the heart to not have to pump as hard to move the blood.
“Once you get good at doing this, increases in skin temperature will show you that you are making progress,” Ferguson said. “With practice, you can begin to see increases in your skin temperature in just a few minutes, by changing your breathing. That is really pretty profound when you think about what that’s doing to your heart. You’re giving your heart a break.”
In addition to focusing on your breathing when times get tough, to minimize stress on a day to day basis, Ferguson encourages individuals to find a balance within the crucial areas of your life – work, family, spiritual, social, health, sleep, diet, physical exercise and recreation.
“A person that takes care of each of those sections in their life is going to be much healthier than the person who doesn’t,” Ferguson said. “What do you do if one of these is really bad? You try to balance it out. The person who’s got all their eggs in one basket, when it goes bad, is in trouble. The question is, if you were to add to one of these factors, which one do you think you would choose to increase the quality of your health, decreasing your level of stress?”
Ferguson encourages individuals to take a look at their life across those areas, and identify ones that are going well and ones that are not going so well. If it’s sleep, consider going to bed earlier. If it’s diet, consult a dietician. Make time for recreation, whether it’s walking the dog, gardening or reading a good book. When tensions rise or life becomes disappointing, make sure there’s at least one friend or family member there to confide in and help you through it.
“Which one do you want to add to your life?” Ferguson said. “Make a note to do that. Take a step above where you are now. Pick one area and think, what is one step more I can take in that direction? Make this a commitment to yourself, and then talk about it with somebody else.”