Did you ever wonder why deep breathing works to relax someone sometimes and other times it does not seem to have much of an impact?
Science has shown that our brains process one thought at a time. An article in Science Daily, in discussing the theory of multi-tasking, explains that research from MIT points to our limited ability to process one thought. Other thoughts “line up” waiting their turn to be processed by our brains.
In order for deep breathing to be effective, therefore, we must fully focus on it. Once another thought enters our mind, the thoughts of deep breathing will move to the back of the line and wait, once again, to be processed. In the meantime, thoughts of anxiety, nervousness, worry can take their turns, one by one turning relaxation into turmoil.
Deep breathing is a stress reducer but also offers much more:
Some studies have indicated that fast breathing rates are linked to high blood pressure.
Deep Breathing may help some people with asthma.
Deep breathing can help to relieve headaches or other aches and pains due to stress.
Deep breathing can improve sleep.
Deep breathing improves muscles strength in the abdomen and intestines.
Deep breathing improves focus.
Using deep breathing exercises each day may help to improve your ability to deal with stress.
In times of high anxiety, however, we need our deep breathing to work quickly to reduce the nervousness and worry. During these times it helps to remember that we can only focus on one thought at a time. If we concentrate and focus on our breathing, our mind will push the thoughts of worry and anxiety back. We cannot think of two things at once.
Try this exercise:
Begin with a few deep breaths. With each breath, recite: inhale and exhale as you breath. Focus your thoughts on feeling yourself breath in and out.
Once you have done this a few times, try to take a deep breath while you are adding the numbers 47 plus 26. (Any two numbers will do.) As you do this, you will notice that you are no longer focusing on your breathing, you are focusing on the math problem. After you finish adding the two numbers, you may have remembered to think once again on your breathing or you may have now let your mind wander.
From this exercise you should have noticed that as soon as you stopped concentrating on your breathing, other thoughts were allowed into your thought process. Once this happened, worry and anxiety can creep back in.
Deep breathing works as a relaxation tool only as long as you focus exclusively on your breathing, thereby, pushing any negative thoughts back.
Understanding this can help you to relax in many different situations. It is not just the act of breathing that will help you to distress. It is the actual thought process and filling your mind with thoughts of relaxation rather than allowing anxiety to take over.
Take ten minutes each day to practice this technique. Practice pushing all other thoughts away and focusing on breathing. By practicing you will improve your ability to focus until this becomes natural. At times of high anxiety, deep breathing will be better able to help you.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.