HOW DOES DEEP BREATHING EXERCISES CONTROL STRESS AND ANXIETY?
Dear Wellness Seeker,
Stress can show itself in so many different ways, and often at inconvenient times. Stress is mostly manifested in form of fear or anxiety.
However, there are a number of ways we can reduce stress and treat its manifestations successfully. Breathing exercises are one such method: they don’t require any additional equipment, or even the need to leave your desk.
Breathing and emotions
When nervous, stressed, angry, or anxious, most people tend to alter their natural breathing pattern – some people breathe shallowly, and others hold their breath.
Researches show that different emotions are associated with different forms of breathing, therefore changing how we breathe can change how we feel. For instance, when we feel joy, breathing is quite regular, deep and slow. On contrary, when we feel anxious or angry, breathing is also irregular, short, fast, and shallow.
Consciously understanding breathing patterns, we can start to feel corresponding emotions.
How does this work? Changing the rhythm of our breathing signals relaxation, and slowing heart rate, at the same time stimulating the vagus nerve, which runs from the brain stem to the abdomen, and is part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s “rest and digest” activities (in contrast to the sympathetic nervous system, which regulates many of our “fight or flight” responses). Triggering the parasympathetic nervous system helps us to calm down and feel better. At the same time, our ability to think rationally returns.
Shallow vs. Deep breathing
During Deep breathing the air comes through the nose fully filling the lungs, and the lower belly rises. For most of us, deep breathing doesn’t feel natural, due to the incorporated idea of body composition. A flat stomach is considered attractive; therefore we tend to hold stomach muscles and consequently produce spasms. Such movements interfere with deep breathing and gradually make shallow “chest breathing” seem normal, which in addition increases tension and anxiety.
Deep Breathing exercises can reduce stress by increasing oxygen exchange, which reduces blood pressure, slows the heart, and releases any tension held in the abdomen. Additional Deep Breathing benefits are:
- Slower heartbeat
- Increased oxygen exchange
- Lower or stabilized blood pressure
- Reduction of tension in the abdomen
- Reduction in feelings of stress or anxiety
Shallow breathing is known as a limiter of the diaphragm’s range of motion. The lowest part of the lungs doesn’t get a full share of oxygenated air. That can make us feel short of breath and anxious.
Deep abdominal breathing activates full oxygen exchange, and unsurprisingly, slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure.
Breathing Exercises Tutorial
Try to practice once or twice a day, always at the same time, in order to enhance the sense of ritual and establish a habit. Try to practice at least 10–20 minutes each day.
In order to maintain awareness on breathing and to reduce distractions find a comfortable place and acceptable postures, close your eyes, and start to notice your breath. Before you begin to alter it, pay attention to the pace and depth.
To get an idea of how breathing can calm you down, try changing the ratio of your inhale to exhale. This approach is one of several common practices that use breathing to reduce stress. When you inhale, your heart rate speeds up. When you exhale, it slows down. First, take a normal breath. Then try a deep breath: Breath in slowly through your nose, allowing your chest and lower belly to rise as you fill your lungs. Let your abdomen expand fully. Now breathe out slowly through the mouth.
Breathe out through pursed lips, slow and steady concentrating on your technique and timing, taking slower and deeper breaths than your regular breathing pattern, in and out.
Breathing in for a count of four and out for a count of eight for just a few minutes can start to calm your nervous system.
Count to 4 on each inhale, hold the breath for 1 count, and exhale for 7 counts. The brief breath-hold helps to strengthen your breathing muscles, while the long exhale relatively to inhale is particularly effective for combating stress and anxiety.
You can incorporate daily different variations of deep breathing in order to produce powerful momentum.
Diaphragmatic concess breathing
As you inhale, place your tongue on the roof of your mouth right behind your teeth, then breathe through your nose and slowly count down from five; on the exhale, let the air escape through your mouth and count back up to eight. Then repeat. This helps you to really empty your lungs and relax into each breath.
A variation “4-7-8 breathing,” is a very common variation. It means: inhale for a count of four, wait for a count of seven, and exhale for a count of eight. This allows you to pause between breaths and really slow things down. When you’re first starting out, practice 4-7-8 breathing for four breaths, and then gradually work your way up to eight full breaths.
Inhale deeply through your left nostril while holding your right nostril closed with your right thumb. At its culmination, switch nostrils by closing off your left nostril and continuing to exhale smoothly through your right nostril. After exhaling fully, proceed to inhale through the right nostril, again closing it off at the peak of your inhalation. Lift your finger off the left nostril and exhale fully. Ensure that your breathing is effortless, and your mind gently focusing on the inflow and outflow of breath.
As you inhale, place your finger over your right nostril and only breathe through your left. On the exhale, switch nostrils and only breathe through your right. You can breathe at whatever pace is comfortable for you, either a 5-8 ratio, a 4-7-8 ratio or whatever pace feels most relaxing for you. Repeat this exercise for up to five minutes.
Hyperventilation Deep breathing (Wim Hof Method)
Once you’re comfortable, you can start to breathe in and out 30 times. This is essentially deep breathing at a steady pace in and out through the mouth. Inhale fully but don’t exhale all the way out. As you inhale you should feel your belly rise and, on the exhale, you should feel your belly fall. It may feel a bit like you are hyperventilating, but you are in control. You may also feel a tingling or lightheaded sensation throughout your whole body when you do this for the first time. This is perfectly normal.
After doing 30 power breaths, empty your lungs of air and retain the breath for as long as you can without force. After the breath retention, take a deep breath in and hold it for a further 10-15 seconds, before exhaling. Repeat the whole process for up to three rounds.
Visualization Breathing: Inflating the Balloon
As you inhale, imagine that your abdomen is inflating with air like a balloon. As you exhale, imagine that the air is escaping the balloon slowly (in your favourite colour).
Visualization Breathing: Releasing Your Stress
Start diaphragmatic breathing. As you inhale, imagine that all the stress in your body is coming from your extremities and into your chest. Then, as you exhale, imagine that the stress is leaving your body through your breath and dissipating right in front of you. Slowly, deliberately repeat the process. After several breaths, you should feel your stress begin to subside.
Physiological mechanism of deep breathing control over stress and anxiety
Breathing techniques, work because of the physiological effect breathing has on the nervous system. Breathing slowly and deeply activates the hypothalamus in the brain, which is connected to the pituitary gland in the brain and lowers the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. This triggers a relaxing response from the body and secretes hormones that decrease blood pressure and heart rate, which also induces a relaxation response in the body.
To Your Best Life,
Dr Igor Micunovic, Energetic Therapist
Your Chenot Wellness Team