In a (Holiday) Hurry? Try the Belly Breath Slow-Down…

In a (Holiday) Hurry? Try the Belly Breath Slow-Down…

The end of the year is a rushed and hurried time for most of us, no matter what holiday we celebrate. Are you marking Winter Solstice (Dec. 21), Christmas (Dec. 25), Kwanzaa (Dec. 26 to Jan. 1), or New Years’ Eve (Dec. 31) for observance?

There’s plenty to do to get ready, including: present shopping and wrapping, decorating, cooking, sacred services, and family gatherings, hosting out-of-town guests, or party-going and all-out revelry.

Even nurses who don’t observe any holiday at all in December can get swept up in the year-end rush.

What’s the easiest technique for calming frazzled holiday nerves? Take a deep belly breath, rather than the shallow chest breaths we’re used to. Even nurses, who operate in a stressed state much of the time, may be shocked at what a powerful difference a deep breath can make.  

How do you know you need to breathe deeper?

You may find that you naturally sigh and yawn during the day, which are your body’s way of pumping up the oxygen supply in your bloodstream.  A sigh releases a bit of tension too, so it’s relaxing as well as enlivening. After all, our most critical source of energy is oxygen.

Most of us breathe rapidly and shallowly. Deep and slow belly breathing is the natural way of taking in air – watch any baby and you’ll see that. Over the years, with increasing stress, our most important bodily function falters.

The ideal respiration pattern is six to 10 breaths per minute yet most adults average 15 to 20 breaths a minute. That rapid rate fools our bodies into releasing cortisol in preparation for the fight or flight response to stress.

Practice this simple exercise to learn how to expand the belly and give the lungs more space for air. If you’d like to be guided by a short video tutorial, check out this one from the University of Texas Stress Recess program:

1. Stand up straight (or lie on back with knees bent). Place one hand beneath rib cage and one on upper chest.
2. Slowly breathe through nose until stomach pushes against lower hand, but chest doesn’t move.
3. Exhale through pursed lips and tighten abdominal muscles. Again, try to keep upper hand still.

Practice breathing in and out this way a few times a day for five to ten minutes, until belly breathing  becomes automatic. Then when you’re in an especially stressful situation, it’ll be easy to get a grip on your breathing.

Do you have a simple of way of dealing with holiday rush, hurry, and general mayhem? We’d love to hear about it!


Jebra Turner is a freelance business and health writer based in Portland, Oregon. You can visit her online at