Take a deep breath! How many times have you heard that phrase? When we face stressful or difficult situations, those four words are very likely to be used. We are living in increasingly stressful times. The coronavirus pandemic is likely to see this increase, sadly, as people face job losses, increasing uncertainty and other seismic events.
I am sure you have experienced stressful occasions, such as bereavement, where you feel your intake of breath increasing. Studies have shown that such acute stress can even trigger asthma attacks. Rapid breaths brought on by stress can bring on panic attacks for those prone to them.
So, knowing how to breathe correctly can be of massive benefit, especially for reducing levels of stress. But you do not need to experience a life-changing event to benefit from breathing techniques. The medical department at the University of Michigan has studied the positive effects of breathing, and actively encourages breathing exercises for stress management. They are not the first to do so, breathing techniques are fast gaining recognition and respect across medical fields as an effective way to support physical, emotional, and mental health.
Some benefits of improving your breathing:
- Feel energised
- Strengthens the Lymphatic system, Cardiovascular and Digestive system
- Let go of old emotions and gain a sense of freedom
- Release anxiety and alleviate stress and depression
- Move beyond your limiting beliefs that are holding you back in life
- Become aware of emotions halting your personal growth
- Experience deeply calming and relaxing
- Improves mental clarity, creativity and ignites passion.
Why you need to control stress
Firstly, it is important to recognize that our stress response, our Fight, Flight, Faint, or Freeze response, is an important part of our survival instinct. It is activated when we perceive danger and should not last longer than just a few moments. Sadly, our modern-day life has caused us to be in a constant state of overdrive and has left this response on a “switched-on mode”. This has a negative effect on our:
- Physical health- you may notice a variety of changes in the body, varying from palpitations, changes in breathings, ached and pains and even nausea and indigestion.
- Emotional health- emotions may fluctuate, become erratic or become increasing difficult to navigate. Some may experience anger, frustration, and fear.
- Mental health- you may notice feelings of long-lasting sadness or irritability, excessive fear, worry or anxiety, social withdrawal, and dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
Using applied techniques helps you reduce and switch off the stress response, which in turn activates a pause the rest response that allows you to feel calm, peaceful and relaxed.
Types of breathing
During my classes, I help you understand more about breathing. If you are aware of your body’s response, you can take control of your stress.
There are two types of breathing: chest and abdominal or diaphragmatic.
Chest breathing uses secondary muscles in your upper chest and is designed for moments of exertion, such as when you sprint. If you face a stressful situation you may resort to this type of breathing. As a result, you may experience the tightening of the shoulder and neck muscles that often ends with headaches.
The second type of breathing — which comes from the diaphragm and sometimes known as abdominal — is more efficient and effective. Being able to use this can help lead to feelings of relaxation.
It is easy to understand which type of breathing you are doing by putting one hand on your upper abdomen and the other in the middle of your chest. As you breathe, notice which hand rises the most. If you breathe properly, your abdomen should expand and contract with each breath. During times of anxiety, you are more likely to breathe from your chest, this is due to the tightening of the diaphragm in response to the activation of stress response.
Simple breathing exercises
We cover a lot of practical steps during my De-stress Class, but if you are facing a stressful situation now, try this well documented diaphragmatic breathing technique:
- Lie on your back, with your knees bent and head supported. Use a pillow under your knees to support your legs. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. This allows you to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.
- Tighten your stomach muscles, letting them fall inward as you exhale through lips as if you would be blowing out a candle. The hand on your upper chest must remain as still as possible.
- As you gain more practice, you can try the diaphragmatic breathing technique while sitting in a chair.
Although there are other ways of de-stressing, such as yoga, meditation, and holistic therapies, controlling your breathing is one of the most natural techniques.
As Donna Farhi says in her book The Breathing Book: Good Health and Vitality Through Essential Breath Work: “Breathing is one of the simplest things in the world. We breathe in, we breathe out. When we breathe with real freedom, we neither grasp for nor hold on to the breath.”
I wish you this same easy and flow as you move through this journey called life.