As already discussed, stress is never pleasant and it can be particularly problematic for people with RA. High levels of stress can exacerbate its symptoms and increase inflammation. Fortunately, there are many self-help strategies that can overcome stress. Meditation is well recognized by medics, psychologists and of course followers of the Buddhist faith alike – and breathing exercises, particularly the practice of deep breathing – is at the forefront of such tried and tested methodology.
The simple act of breathing in and out may seem straightforward, but the way you choose to do so can make a big difference. For instance, taking shallow breaths into the top half of the lungs can be very energizing, while deep breathing into the diaphragm can help you focus your body and mind.
Breathing even deeper into your abdomen has been hailed as an important healing technique for centuries in yoga and meditation practices – there’s bound to be a meditation group where you live which you can join. When you begin to breathe with more control, patience, and deliberation, you can also change the way your body experiences and relays sensations, including pain. Deep, slow breathing activates a relaxation response, which automatically relaxes the tension in your muscles and deactivates the stress receptors. With each deep breath, you’re delivering more oxygen to your muscles, which lets those fibers release and relax.
Focusing on your breath invites you to shift your attention without forcing you to concentrate too much, and that is a great recipe for happy distraction. As you get the hang of your deep belly breathing, your thoughts will grow quieter and you’ll begin to enjoy the rhythm without critiquing your state of mind or body. As any chronic pain patient knows, distraction can be an excellent tool for pain relief. So, when you combine the physiological benefits of deep breathing (deactivating the stress receptors) with the natural distraction that comes along, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how quickly your pain seems to dull and dissipate. Try this:
- Open your mouth and exhale. Now, close your mouth and take in a long, slow lung-full of air through the nostrils.
- Keep your mouth closed and breathe out again through the nose – long, slow and controlled. With each inward breath, imagine that you are pushing the air into the center of your body and then out through the fingers and toes.
- Each time you breathe in and out, that is considered a round. Do at least 7 or 8 rounds. You can stop once you begin to feel the relaxation radiate through your body and mind or continue with a few more similar breathing exercises for deeper relaxation.
- While you’re doing this, close your eyes if possible. This enhances the benefits of each breath – it immediately activates the alpha brainwaves and prompts relaxation.