It's no secret that stress can wreak havoc on your body and mind. In the U.S. alone, billions are spent annually on stress-related compensation claims, reduced productivity, absenteeism, health insurance costs, direct medical expenses and employee turnover. Medical researchers estimate that stress is now the underlying cause of over 80 percent of all illnesses, and there is an abundance of research that continues to uphold the fact that things are not getting any better. For example, CareerBuilder's workplace stress survey reported that 61 percent of respondents said they were burned out in their current job, while 31 percent of the study participants felt extremely high levels of stress at work. And workplace stress does not magically stop when you leave the office; stress affects your home life, as well. We've all experienced it -- work-related stress can negatively impact your relationships. Research backs this up -- job strain can manifest in ways such as being easily antagonized or short-tempered with a partner or child, or becoming withdrawn. Social scientists refer to this lingering work stress as the "spillover effect."
Are we really meant to live like this? With so much to contend with, maintaining a healthy lifestyle or a healthy state of mind may seem impossible. Faced with such challenging times, people are more likely to put their need for rest, rejuvenation, and reflection on the back burner as their "to-do" list overtakes them. It is not surprising that many seek relief.
Interestingly, one of the most effective means to combat stress does not come in a pill or an evening cocktail. It lies in the power of your ability to focus and calm the mind -- and in the power of the breath. Mindful breathing activates the relaxation response, creating a sense of calm, connection, and clarity of thought. This state decreases stressful hormones like adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol, each of which can contribute to a host of unhealthy diseases from obesity, heart disease, and high blood pressure to panic attacks and depression.
Andrew Weil, M.D., renowned founder of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona recommends a simple, yet powerful breathing technique called the "4-7-8 Breath" to help reverse the effects stress on both the body and mind. The method helps you focus on your breath and brings you back to being in the moment, and with consistent practice it will lower your blood pressure and your stress level.
Here is Dr. Weil demonstrating the 4-7-8 Breath:
You will likely feel more positive results if you practice twice daily for an extensive period of time. Here is the technique, step-by-step:
Dr. Weil's 4-7-8 Breath for Relaxation
1. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue. Try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.
2. First take a deep cleansing breath, exhaling completely through your mouth while making an audible "whooshing" sound.
3. Then close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a count of four, hold your breath for a count of seven, and then exhale completely through your mouth (again with an audible "whoosh") for a count of eight.
4. This counts as one breath. Repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.