Stress management gurus tell us that unconscious breath restraint and short, shallow breathing—as in the case of a busy, frightened, or harried person who is hardly aware of her breathing—cause stress levels to elevate. Some people experience headaches, fatigue, anxiety, or depression as a result.
Taking rapid, short, or shallow breaths is often inefficient, as air reaches only the upper lobes of the lungs. It causes you to breathe faster in order to collect the oxygen that your tissues need to function and your breathing rate increases, so that body tissues have little time to absorb the oxygen they need. And the negative effects of stress escalate.The key to minimizing this, and stimulating the relaxation response in your body so that you may sleep better, digest your food more efficiently, and feel more relaxed even when life around you seems crazy busy, is to slow down your breathing and move your belly as you breathe.
Shallow breathing stimulates the sympathetic or excitatory nervous system. Cortisol and other stress hormone levels increase, resulting in a cascade of negative impacts. Over time, you may grow tired, lethargic, and perhaps even ill. In contrast, taking slower, deeper, and more complete breaths, and moving the belly as you breathe, will help you feel more vital and relaxed.
In part, this happens because air is traveling deeper into the lungs and more oxygen is available for use by the body’s cells. Deep and easy breathing has a positive effect on the nervous system. It soothes the fight, flight, or freeze response of the sympathetic nervous system that is exacerbated by modern daily living.
With greater amounts of oxygen coming in to the body due to deeper, slower breathing, the nervous system—brain included—has a chance to rest, and hormone levels even out. Balance, or homeostasis, then returns to all body systems. As this happens, health improves.
A simple and effective tool for facilitating balance and homeostasis is conscious diaphragmatic breathing. In my book, Learning to Breathe, Learning to Live, I outline steps you may take to enhance the way you breathe. By learning to connect with your breath in a conscious manner, you will be better able to use your breath as an effective stress management tool.
Breathing is an act we take for granted, because it continues whether we think about it or not. Why not take the time to learn how to breathe? It takes only minutes a day. This a simple to use, and always available powerhouse of a stress management tool can be your key to living a healthier, happier, more joyful life!
Learn to breathe. Learn to live. If I can support you in any way, please reach out.
Blessings of health and well-being to you, my friend.