Breathing: Your Unknown Weapon
By Joanna Leung, PhD
Everyone confronts stress at some time in his or her life. People may have stress at work, in their relationships, with their finances, or with their health. After bariatric surgery, you will likely experience some degree of stress along the way. Bariatric surgery involves a long-term commitment to behavioral changes. From the time you decide to pursue the surgery to years after the surgery, you will have to make changes. As you adjust to the behavioral changes, you will likely not only experience emotional changes, such as how you feel about yourself, but also experience stress, whether it be minor or significant. Stress may arise if you have complications or from trying to adhere to the prescribed medical and dietary regimen. The degree of stress varies from individual to individual, depending on your personality, the situation, and your coping skills.
There are various types of stress and they affect people differently. Keep in mind that sometimes stress can be helpful to us. Take procrastination as an example. The stress from procrastinating might help us finish a task that we might have put off until the last minute. However, sometimes stress can be unhelpful and harmful to us. For example, let’s say you are worried about a complication from the surgery, and instead of talking to your provider, you decide to skip your appointment or even deny that you have these concerns. When stress interferes with your ability to reason and function, it becomes harmful and you may need to try different and more efficient stress relieving strategies to calm yourself to better address your concerns.
There are many ways to manage stress. For example, relaxation is one strategy that can help you achieve calm. There are many ways to practice relaxation. One specific method is abdominal breathing (Bourne, 2005). When you are under stress, your breathing tends to be shallow and rapid, occurring high in the chest. When you are relaxed, your breathing tends to be fuller, deeper and from your abdomen. Abdominal breathing helps increase oxygen to the brain and muscles, stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, as well as promote more efficient excretion of bodily toxins. All of this improves concentration and relaxation, promoting greater feelings of connectedness between mind and body.
Let's put abdominal breathing into practice. First, put one hand on your abdomen, right beneath your rib cage. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, letting oxygen travel to the bottom of your lungs. If you are breathing with your diaphragm, your hand should rise. Take a full breath, pause for a moment, and then exhale slowly and fully through your nose or mouth. As you exhale, allow your body to let go. Do ten slow, full abdominal breaths for practice. If you like, you can count to 4 as you inhale, pause, and then count to 4 as you exhale. You can do two or three sets each time you practice. As with any behavior, mastery requires consistent practice. The more you practice the more likely you will be able to calm yourself down when you confront real life stress.
The holidays can also be a stressful time. Try practicing this breathing technique as a gift to yourself. This gift will help enhance your commitment to behavior change which will ultimately assist you achieve and maintain your weight loss goals.