The way we breathe matters.
When you’re feeling anxious or stressed, have you ever noticed the way you’re breathing? My guess? The breaths will be shallow and short, on the verge of hyperventilating. If not hyperventilating.
We’ve all heard people say, “just breathe” when they notice someone is upset or anxious about something. But what does that even mean?
Deep belly breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, is one great way to release the trigger of our fight and flight response, coming from the sympathetic nervous system. It helps send signals to the brain that say, “I’m okay!” and the brain then sends signals to other parts of the body that are releasing hormones to help get you out of what it perceives as danger.
Don’t get me wrong, our fight or flight response is a very important autonomic response for the body to have. The issue is that for most of us, we constantly enter into that response due to our daily lifestyle, constant stressors and past traumas, and not necessarily because we are indeed in need of the quickening of body responses to get us out of imminent danger.
But if we get ourselves to breath slowly, it turns on an anti-stress response within the body and reminds ourselves that we don’t need to be in constant vigilance.
So what does it mean to deep belly or diaphragmatic breathe?
Breathe in slowly through the nostrils (if possible), allowing the air to settle down into the abdomen, try to see if you can feel the diaphragm expand down into the abdomen. Then feel the air expand in the ribcage, opening the ribcage out like an umbrella, side ribs, back ribs, expanding. Now notice the air reaching all the way up the the clavicle.
Breathe out even slower, releasing from top to bottom, first from the clavicle, feel the air release from the ribcage, and then from the abdomen. Try to see if you can notice the diaphragm lifting back up to between the ribs.
Keep breathing in and out in this way for a few minutes.
If you find it hard to focus, try counting on the in breath and on the out breath. First start in smaller numbers and slowly increase it, for example:
Breathe in, 1, 2, 3; breathe out 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
Breathe in, 1, 2, 3; breathe out, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Breathe in, 1, 2, 3; breathe out, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.
Breathe in 1, 2, 3, 4; breathe out 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Breathe in 1, 2, 3, 4; breathe out 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.
Breathe in 1, 2, 3, 4; Breathe out 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Breathe in 1, 2, 3, 4; Breathe out 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.
There have been many studies that have shown that practicing deep belly breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing on a regular basis can help with stress and anxiety levels. For example, a study in 2016 on the effectiveness of diaphragmatic breathing to reduce anxiety, found that daily diaphragmatic breathing practice helped people reduce anxiety responses.
By practicing this type of breathing when you aren’t stressed or anxious, it is more likely that when stressors pop up in your daily life, you may notice sooner that your breathing has changed and has become quicker and more shallow. Self-awareness is key to reducing stress and anxiety responses.
Other breathing and awareness practices can also be done to help to reduce stress and anxiety responses within the body, such as mindful yoga asana, meditation, yoga nidra. By paying attention to what our body is saying, we are better able to take care of ourselves.
What is your relationship with your breath? Do you notice how it changes depending on what is going on in your life?
Let me know, I’d love to hear from you.
If you’re interested in learning more about breathing practices and stress reduction, message me, I’m happy to help in any way I can.