Submitted by jbraun on

Some would argue that stress is the number one health concern of the 21st century. Linked to larger complications, like heart problems and dementia, it's important that we all find the time to de-stress and take a breath. "We need to breathe to live, but most of us do it wrong, and that contributes to stress," says Belisa Vranich, a clinical psychologist and author of Breathe: The Simple, Revolutionary 14-Day Program to Improve Your Mental and Physical Health.

Most people breathe from the bottom of their lungs through their chests and shoulders. This is called vertical breathing and can lead to an elevated level of stress. Vranich teaches students to breathe by expanding the abdomen during a deep breath. This way, your diaphragm flattens and spreads, while your bottom ribs expand. This allows more oxygen to enter the lungs and takes pressure off the often overworked shoulders and neck, a primary focal point for stress.

It can help to have a prompt that guides you through breathing exercises. Even if it's only for 15 minutes a day, using something as simple as a GIF from the internet can help de-stress and normalize that daily stress buildup.

Above is the most popular of these online breathing prompts. Follow along by breathing in as the shapes expand, then slowly breathing out as they collapse. After a few rounds, your body will have access to more oxygen and you'll feel more relaxed. Follow along through the series of relaxing GIFs below and take a moment for yourself. Whether you imagine effortlessly flying through the clouds, appreciating the beauty of falling snow, or eyeing up an endless pizza, there's a bit of escapism in each of these images that can help remove at least a tiny bit of stress from your day.

If you feel that you may need more than a few relaxing images, there are other options as well. UCLA offers free guided meditations and your library has many meditation and yoga DVDs to borrow or stream on-demand! The most important thing to remember is to breathe. "Most children breathe through their bellies, but between the ages of 5 and 10 they start to breathe like their parents," Vranich says. "Your dog and cat breathe through their bellies, too, and they’re probably a lot less stressed than you are."

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