When we feel anxious, panicky, or even unconsciously stressed, we tend to take short breaths (called shallow breathing or chest breathing). As a result, our body doesn’t receive enough oxygen, which limits blood flow to important organs and creates tension in our muscles and joints.
This is a physiological reaction to perceived external danger, so when we continuously take shallow breaths we are actually sending signals to our body that we are under threat.
Anything from being stuck in a traffic jam or standing in a long queue, to feeling claustrophobic in a crowded space or even remembering a past traumatic event, can make us anxious and put us into stress mode. Our minds can perceive these situations as threatening/stressful and our body reacts to our thought patterns.
It is imperative to start becoming aware of when we are putting ourselves into stress mode, as these are usually subconscious reactions.
When we breathe full, deep breaths using the full capacity of our lungs, not only are we nourishing our cells with more oxygen, but we are sending calming signals to our body.
In the same way that stressful thoughts in our subconscious mind can create negative changes in our physical body, initiating conscious changes (breathing) in our body can create a calmer state of mind.
- Stressful thoughts = shallow breath & tightness in muscles
- Deep, full breaths = calmer mind + calmer body
Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson, MD, identified the flip side of the stress response, which he called the “relaxation response.” Benson demonstrated that meditation, yoga, and other relaxation techniques can bring about physiological changes including a lower heart rate, lower breathing rate, and decreased muscle tension along with positive changes in brain waves. Mind-body techniques that elicit this relaxation response have been successful in treating many stress-related disorders.
Correct and conscious breath is the first and most simple step toward releasing stress and anxiety.
Try this exercise:
To find out how you are breathing, place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. On every inhale, notice your chest rising. Notice your abdomen too – does it move?
- If it doesn’t, then your breath is shallow.
- If your abdomen moves in on an inhale, your breath is inverted (and still shallow).
- If your chest as well as your abdomen rise when you breathe in, you are breathing good, relaxed breaths – well done!
If you find it difficult to breathe into your abdomen, try this:
- Try to imagine that your abdomen is like a balloon
- As you breathe in slowly, let the air fill up your abdomen as if you are filling a balloon with air, letting your abdomen rise before your chest
- As you exhale, let your chest go in then your abdomen, as if deflating the balloon
- Do this exercise 3 – 4 times and feel your body become calm.
There are many breathing techniques and exercises that we can use to release stress from our body & mind. The first step, as always, is to be mindful, to become aware. Only then can we pause and step back before we can breathe our way to a sense of calm and to new perspectives. Share this on