Have you ever sat down for 10 minutes and tried controlling your own breathing? This could be a very beneficial exercise if you suffer from stress and anxiety.
When we are feeling stressed our breathing rate and pattern can change as a result of the ‘fight or flight’ response, controlled by the sympathetic nervous system. To relax, we need to activate the parasympathetic nervous system also called a ‘rest and digest’ response. Fortunately we can control our own breathing. Scientific studies have shown that controlling your breathing can help manage stress and stress related conditions. Breath control is also used in practices such as Yoga, Tai Chi, and some forms of meditation.
An anxious person may take small, shallow breathes, using their shoulder and chest muscles instead of their diaphragm to breathe in and out. Shoulder breathing may also cause tight and over-active muscles and lead to pain and dysfunction of the neck and shoulders.
Shallow, shoulder breathing can disrupt the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body. In addition it can also prolong the feelings of anxiety by making the physical symptoms of stress worse. Controlling your breathing can help improve some of these symptoms.
When are person is relaxed they tend to breathe slowly through their nose using their diaphragm. Deliberate control of a relaxed breathing pattern helps to calm the nervous system.
Controlled breathing may help:
- Lower blood pressure and heart rate
- Reduce levels of stress hormones in the blood
- Increase blood oxygen levels
- Increase feelings of calm and wellbeing
- Conserve energy
- Improve sleep
Here is a simple breathing technique to help reduce stress and bring about calm and relaxation to your body.
First you will need a quiet, relaxed environment where you won’t be disturbed for 10-20 minutes. Do this by setting an alarm. Then you can either sit cross legged or lay on your back with one hand on your chest and the other hand on your stomach.
Concentrate on your breath, gently breathing in and out of your nose. Try and push the hand on your stomach outwards to initiate stomach or diaphragmatic breathing. The hand on your chest should stay relatively still. As you are breathing you may get distracted by thoughts which is normal. When this happens just re-focus and tune back into your breathing.
With each breathe allow the stress and tension in your body to dissolve away. After 10 to 20 minutes the alarm will sound and you will be able to get on with your day in relaxed state of mind and breathing pattern.
Try this breathing exercise once a day to reduce stress and anxiety.