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| Sarah Mockett

Many people are unaware just how much our state of mind affects our digestion.

When we’re stressed, our bodies enter fight-or-flight mode and the stress hormones stop our digestive systems from working properly. Energy is diverted away from digestive processes and directed towards heart, lungs and muscles so that we can run from our stressor, or fight it.

Consequently, eating when stressed can, in the longer term, lead to all sorts of digestive problems including bloating, acid reflux, constipation, diarrhoea and stomach pain.

It really is essential to relax before eating to allow our digestive systems time to prepare for the incoming food. But how can you do this when you’re grabbing lunch on the go, between meetings or working to a deadline?

Try this Digest-Best Breathing method to switch from stress activation to relaxation activation in just a few minutes. It’s a great habit to get in to before eating. It is very similar to our Box Breathing exercise, so if you prefer a visual prompt and you have access to our dashboard then visit the media library.

1. Gently exhale the air in your lungs through your mouth, then inhale slowly through your nose to the count of 4.
2. As you breathe in, concentrate on your breath, and draw it towards your belly button. You should be able to see your abdomen push out slightly.
3. Hold the breath for at least the count of 4.
4. Slowly exhale through your mouth while counting to 8. Gently contract your abdominal muscles to completely release the remaining air in your lungs.
5. Repeat until you feel deeply relaxed for a total of 5 cycles. You may be able to do only 1 or 2 cycles at first.

Your brain will respond to the slower pace of breathing and will allow the parasympathetic nervous system (‘rest and digest’) to become dominant.

When you first start to do this exercise, you might prefer to find a comfortable place to sit or lie and place one hand on your abdomen, near your navel, and the other on your chest. This allows you to feel where your breath is going. Once you’re comfortable with your ability to breathe abdominally, it’s won’t be necessary to use your hands and you can use this technique wherever you need it, whether that is at your desk or on the tube.

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