The demands of life can sometimes make us feel stressed, anxious, low in energy, lacking in motivation, out of control or a mixture of all these. There are many things you can do to look after yourself a little more – going for a walk, relaxing with a good book, chatting to a friend, having a massage. Self-care is all about understanding how you can look after your physical and psychological health. Self-care is something that is under our individual control, its deliberate and self-initiated. It’s a life style option that can help you to replenish your resources as well as protect, maintain and improve health, well-being and a general feeling of wellness.

Breathing is a simple activity that can be done to help manage stressful times and bring about a sense of calm and restore a feeling of control. There are many breathing techniques that can be learnt but a quick and effective one is ‘abdominal breathing’.

The muscle group that tends to tense up in response to stress are the abdominal muscles. As a response to stress, these muscles tense up and your breathing tends to be high and shallow. Feeling like you're not getting enough oxygen, your body starts to set off mental alarms indicating you may be in danger – increasing the stressful feelings. Eventually shallow, rapid breathing can lead to hyperventilation which is one of the prime causes of stress and panic. Controlled abdominal breathing reverses this process by relaxing these muscles which allows you to slow your breathing rate down.

This takes just a few minutes and can be done anywhere – sitting down, standing up, waiting for a bus or at your desk at work… wherever and whenever you choose to do a bit of self-care. Abdominal breathing is a very effective technique and the calming effects of this type of breathing can happen in a matter of minutes.

To start your abdominal breathing exercise, make sure you are as comfortable as you can be. Try to make sure there as few distractions around you as possible and close your eyes. If you prefer to keep your eyes open that’s find, try to find something to focus on that enables your eyes to feel relaxed - i.e. the floor, a picture on the wall etc.

If you're lying down, start by letting your arms gently rest at your side and then place one hand on your chest and one hand on your tummy. Your legs can be straight or bent – whatever is comfortable for you.

If you're standing up or sitting down, then let your arms relax by your sides for a moment and then place one hand on your chest and one hand on your tummy. Make sure your feet are flat on the floor and your spine is relatively straight.

Just breathe normally for a few seconds – gently and regularly - in through your nose and out through your mouth. Just notice which of your hands is moving the most during this time.

Some people find it helps to count slowly to 3 whilst breathing in and then counting slowing again to 3 whilst breathing out. Just do this for a few seconds to allow yourself to relax into your breathing.

Now, to move your breath to your abdominal area, breath slowly and calmly but this time pushing your breath down into your stomach as you breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Watching or feeling the hand on your tummy rise and fall as you breathe in and out. The hand on your chest should be quite still now.

It can sometimes help to think of a balloon inflating and deflating in your tummy as you breath in and out. Inflating as you breathe in and deflating as you breathe out. What colour would your balloon be?

Whilst you are doing this breathing exercise thoughts may come into your mind - that’s okay, because that’s just what the human mind does. Simply notice those thoughts and then kindly bring your attention back to your breathing and the movement of your hand on your tummy.

Try to keep doing this slow, calm abdominal breathing for 3- 5 minutes. Counting as you breathe in and out, imagining the balloon inflating and deflating - if this helps.

On occasion you may not have as much time as 3- 5 minutes to practice this. When time is limited you may find that as few as 3 or 4 slow abdominal breaths can be all it takes for your body and mind to start to experience a sense of calm again.

Examples of other breathing exercises can be found on the internet an example of such can be found at: http://greatist.com/happiness/breathing-exercises-relax.

If you find that practising breathing, or self-care alone is not alleviating the symptoms and feelings you are experiencing you may want to visit your GP and/or think about trying counselling – both are excellent examples of practising self-care.

You can find a NCS Accredited Counsellor by clicking on the following link: https://www.nationalcounsellingsociety.org/find-counsellor.

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