There are many different methods for calming stress and anxiety in the modern world--some new, some recycled, and some very, very old. One of the oldest methods, one still touted for its effectiveness, is the practice of deep breathing.
The breath is a basic component of life. Most of the time, it is done unconsciously, without any effort or thought put into it. Involuntary breathing rate and depth can be a good measure of the stress level of the body. When the fight-or-flight response is activated, breathing tends to quicken and become shallower. Conversely, when the body and mind are calm, as in rest or sleep, the breathing rate tends to be slow and steady.
Stress and Breathing
Many doctors and psychologists believe that chronic stress can cause chronically poor breathing habits. The lungs may become constricted, and breathing becomes inefficient. This is called “chest breathing,” where the only the top portion of the lungs gets air, and oxygen flow throughout the body can be reduced.
However, the idea behind deep breathing stems from the fact that breathing can also be done voluntarily, or actively. A person can actually choose to slow and deepen his or her breath. In the midst of a stressful situation, this can be incredibly helpful in paving the way for relaxation and health.
The opposite of “chest breathing” is called “diaphragmatic breathing.” This type of breathing involves a large abdominal muscle called the diaphragm, which can move up and down to create more or less space for the lungs. When the diaphragm is contracted, the lungs expand more fully, allowing for better gas exchange, as well as improving blood flow and lymph fluid flow. Additionally, the deep inhale and the relieving, complete exhale reduce tension in the muscles and reduce stress in the mind.
The method of deep breathing is relatively simple, but must be practiced regularly in order to become habitual.
Steps in Diaphragmatic Breathing
1. The individual read what he said takes a deep breath in through the nose, focusing on filling the lungs from the bottom up, like filling a cup.
2. After holding the air in the lungs for several seconds, the individual slowly exhales through the mouth, striving to get as much air out of the lungs as possible.
3. The cycle is repeated at least four more times.
Once deep breathing becomes a learned response to stressful situations, some people find that it has an immediately calming effect to prevent panic attacks and spikes in blood pressure. Along with working with a therapist, taking anxiety or depression supplements if recommended, exercising like this regularly, and eating healthfully, deep breathing can be a great strategy for people who are striving to better their mental and overall health.