You have heard it often enough: when stressed, just breathe. But does our breathing really affect our level of anxiety and stress? Can breathing improve our mood and our health?
According to Jeffrey Rossman, Ph.D., in an article on Rodale.com, "The way you breathe powerfully affects every system in your body–cardiovascular, nervous, endocrine, lymph, immune, digestive and, of course, respiratory." According to Rossman, there have been a number of studies showing the health benefits of proper diaphragmatic breathing. People with asthma, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, insomnia and chronic pain have seen improvements after learning to breathe properly.
Diaphragmatic breathing is when you breathe using your diaphragm. When you take a deep breath, you should be able to see your diaphragm moving up and down. An article on the Heart MD Institute site explains that diaphragmatic breathing may help because the diaphragm is close to the vagus nerve, which supplies parasympathetic fibers to the rest of our body. This has been associated with lower stress levels. The article speculates that deep breathing may stimulate the vagus nerve.
Stress reduction does not necessarily involve reducing your stressors, but changing your reaction to them. There often are times when you are not able to change your situation, but must instead learn productive ways of dealing with what is going on. Taking a few minutes to breathe properly is one way to help control and manage your reaction to stress. Normally, when we are in a stressful situation, our diaphragm flattens and we begin to breathe shallowly. This, in turn, increases our stress level. Recognizing the signs of stress and consciously controlling our breathing can immediately calm you down and allow you to think through the situation.
In order to utilize breathing techniques when anxious, it is important to practice diaphragmatic breathing every day. The easiest way to do this is to lie down, face up, and place your hands on your abdomen. Slowly breathe in, taking a deep breath, until you feel your hands rise. This means you are filling your lungs completely and your diaphragm is moving down to give your lungs room. Hold your breath for a few minutes and then slowly exhale. You should feel your hands lower. Repeat for several minutes.
By practicing this every day, you teach your body the correct way to breathe. When in a stressful situation, it will be much easier to use this technique because your body will be used to breathing in this manner. Meditation, yoga and tai chi all use specific breathing exercises for relaxation and mind-body connection.
You may find that when you regularly practice breathing in this way, not only does your stress level lower, but your overall outlook on life, your mood and your physical health begin to improve.
"Just Breathe," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Heart MD Institute,
"Mind-Body-Mood Advisor: Why You Should Breathe Like a Baby," Date Unknown, Jeffrey Rossman, Ph.D., Rodale.com
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.