The Link Between Proper Breathing and Stress Reduction
Did you know that adults normally breathe around 17,000-30,000 times per day? That sounds like a lot of breathing but take note that this figure represents a normal resting state. What happens when you are stressed and hyperventilating? The figures could balloon up and actually pose a risk to your health.
The respiratory hub of the body is in a certain area of the brainstem that controls the rhythm of breathing as a response to the changes in levels of gases in the body. When a person is under stress, there is a tendency to “hyperventilate” or to over breathe as a flight or fight response. That is, when you feel anxious over a situation, you tend to breathe quickly in preparation for either fight or flight scenario. Suddenly, there is a switch from a normal slow, abdominal breathing to a rapid, shallow and chest breathing. This is a normal reaction and may be healthy only for a short term, but becomes a concern when the cause of stress is over and yet you are still exhibiting a rapid, shallow breathing as though you are still in the fight or flight response.
Remember that breathing balances the levels of gases (carbon dioxide and oxygen) in your body, so a prolonged rapid breathing will just cause havoc to the amount of gases in the blood, making it more complicated.
How Do We Manage Stress By Breathing?
Fortunately, man has the power to deliberately control his own breathing pattern so that when stress is evident, a relaxed and controlled breathing may just be good to help reduce the anxiety caused by stress. This control actually helps us “alert” the brain that the threat is over and that the system can now reverse the effects caused by the fight or flight response.
Controlled breathing causes the following physiological changes:
- Reduced heart rate
- Lowered Blood Pressure
- Reduced Levels of Stress Hormones
- Reduced Build up of Lactic Acid
- Balanced Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide Blood Levels
- Increased Physical Energy
- Improved Immunity
- Feelings of Calmness and Wellbeing
All the physiological changes mentioned may as well sum up as the effects of a stress-free and relaxed abdominal breathing.
Relaxed Abdominal Breathing
The goal is to do the opposite breathing pattern when you are under stress. Rapid, shallow and chest breathing is switched to slow, deep and abdominal breathing in order to reduce stress.
Here are some starter tips for relaxed abdominal breathing:
- Choose a relaxed and quiet environment
- Sit and relax comfortably
- Breathe in and let your ribcage expand
- With one hand over your chest and one hand over your abdomen, notice these two move as you breathe along
- Concentrate and try to breathe in deeply through your nose
- Chest and stomach should be still to allow the diaphragm to work better with the abdomen instead of the chest
- Allow any tension in your body to slip away as you breathe
There are other ways to help alleviate stress. Since each of us have our own definition of what makes us stressful, we also have different ways on how to beat stress. However, there is one “super stress buster” that effectively evokes the relaxation response and is good for everyone. Yes, it is called BREATHING, particularly focused breathing.
Studies show that abdominal breathing for at least 20 minutes will help reduce anxiety and stress. Deep breathing helps increase the oxygen supply to the brain thus promotes an area in the brainstem called the parasympathetic nervous system, to “keep calm and relax”. This type of breathing allows you to keep connected to your body and shifts your awareness from the worries in your head.
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Calmclinic.com. (2016). Hyperventilation: *The* Anxiety Attack Symptom. [online] Available at: http://www.calmclinic.com/anxiety/symptoms/hyperventilation [Accessed 19 May 2016].
Stresscourse.tripod.com. (2016). Stress and the Role of Breathing. [online] Available at: http://stresscourse.tripod.com/id20.html [Accessed 19 May 2016].
Stress.org. (2016). Take a Deep Breath | The American Institute of Stress. [online] Available at: http://www.stress.org/take-a-deep-breath/ [Accessed 19 May 2016].