Article originally written by Dr. Kevin Passero
Breathing is something that we all take for granted, but it actually has the power to reduce stress when done properly. When you breathe air in, blood cells receive oxygen and release carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a waste product that is carried back through your body and exhaled. Improper breathing can upset the oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange and contribute to anxiety, panic attacks, fatigue and other physical and emotional disturbances. It may sound silly, but the simple act of breathing the correct way could be THE stress reduction tip that changes your life!
Let’s start with explaining the different breathing patterns and what can induce them. When one experiences an acute stressful situation they begin to take rapid, shallow breaths that come directly from the chest – a type of breathing that is called thoracic or chest breathing. This is actually a hardwired response that allows the body to respond to an acute threat, as chest breathing causes an increase in heart rate, muscle tension and triggers stress hormones to be released. There is nothing wrong with this type of breathing for short periods of time. However, problems can arise when chest breathing is done for long periods of time. After the acute threat or stressor is gone, the body should resume the correct manor of breathing otherwise known as abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing. During this type of breathing, the body takes deep, even breaths which decreases heart rate, relaxes the muscles and reduces stress hormones circulating throughout the body. Abdominal breathing should be the default setting for the body, but unfortunately this is not the case for most people today. Most of us are spend the majority of our time chest breathing and therefore we are contributing to the stress cycle without even knowing it.
The easiest way to determine your breathing pattern is to put one hand on your upper abdomen near the waist and the other on the middle of your chest. If you are breathing properly, the hand on your abdomen should be expanding and contracting with each breath. If you notice that you are constantly breathing solely through your chest, start a daily abdominal breathing practice. You only have to do several minutes a day to notice a difference. You can also use this technique during a stressful situation. The greatest thing about this simple technique is that you can practice this ANYWHERE and ANYTIME!
1. Place both hands on your abdomen. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose and breath into your belly. Your hands should rise as your belly rises and there should very little movement in your chest.
2. Exhale slowly through your mouth and let your belly contract as do you do.
3. Research has shown that inhaling for 7 seconds and exhaling for 7 seconds during this exercise can activate the part of your nervous system that combats stress. So as you breathe in, slowly count to 7 and do the same as you exhale. That will put your breathing in perfect timing with your nervous system.
4. Repeat this breathing exercise for several minutes or until you feel relaxed.