All deep breathing isn’t the same
Finding ways to relax and reduce stress is one of my tenets of good health, along with eating well, exercising and spending quality time with friends and family.
Bottom line on top: Deep breathing is recognized as an effective way to calm down when you’re feeling anxious or angry.
Did you know there is a wrong way and a right way to breathe effectively?
Many people will just take a huge inhale, expand their chest and raise their shoulders. That’s the wrong way.
The right way is called diaphragmatic breathing, aka abdominal breathing, belly breathing or yoga breathing.
With diaphragmatic breathing, the abdomen expands, engaging the diaphragm muscle, which in turn expands the lungs more fully. Done properly, the upper chest, shoulders and neck don’t move.
It’s also important to breathe slowly, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. Watch the following video on diaphragmatic breathing for more details.
Why diaphragmatic breathing works
When we’re stressed, frightened or angry, our sympathetic nervous system kicks in. This is our “fight or flight” response. Our blood pressure goes up, our heart rate increases, we breathe more quickly and less blood flows to our brain, stomach, arms and legs.
That’s why extreme stress can cause dizziness, cold hands and feet, and indigestion.
On the flip side is our parasympathetic nervous system, or the “rest and digest” response. When we control our breathing using proper diaphragmatic breathing technique, the vagus nerve is stimulated, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system.
Our blood pressure goes down, our heart rate decreases and we breathe more slowly.
With practice, anyone can use diaphragmatic breathing to quickly counter the negative physical feelings that come with acute stress.
Relax and live longer
Under stress, our bodies release several hormones: adrenalin, cortisol and norepinephrine. These hormones are useful if we need to fight or flee. Left unchecked, however, high levels of stress hormones can cause heart disease, inflammation, chronic pain, insomnia, digestive problems, weight gain and impaired memory.
Effective deep breathing to control stress can lower blood pressure, improve digestion, enhance concentration, and help us get to sleep.
Related post: Breathing exercises to improve sleep
There are many ways to deal with stress: yoga, meditation, centering prayer, progressive relaxation, etc. What underpins all these techniques is breath control, or diaphragmatic breathing. So if you master your breathing, you’ve gone a long way to managing the stressors in your life.
To start, practice diaphragmatic breathing 3-4 times a day. You can do it lying down, standing, or sitting. Over time, you may notice you are using your diaphragm more when just breathing normally. (That’s good!)
And have you ever heard of screen apnea? I just learned about this. It’s when you hold your breath while working at the computer. I’ve been paying more attention as I work, and yes, I do this! My new goal is to be more mindful of my breathing while I work, and take 8-12 deep breaths every hour.
We all carry a lot of stress with us through our daily lives. What I like about diaphragmatic breathing is that it’s easy, it’s effective, it’s free, and it doesn’t have any nasty side effects. That’s my kind of medicine 😉