Mindful Breathing: Using Breathing Exercises to Calm Your Nervous System
When you are feeling overwhelmed and everything feels like its just a bit too much, focusing on your breath can be a useful way to manage symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Stress is an inevitable part of life, and it can take a toll on our mental and physical health. While there are various ways to manage stress, one of the most effective techniques is through the power of our breath. By simply being aware of our breath and using some specific breathing techniques, we can manage stress and anxiety effectively. In fact, many people opt to combine breathing techniques in their meditation practices to enhance their effectiveness in managing stress and anxiety.
If you ever wondered how breathing techniques physically calm down our nervous system, we have broken it down for you. When the body is undergoing stress, our sympathetic nervous system is over active - which is the part of the brain responsible for our fight-or-flight response. An active sympathetic nervous system can result in fast heart rates and rapid shallow breathing. To resolve this, focused breathing techniques will activate the parasympathetic nervous system — responsible for relaxing your body after periods of stress or danger. Activating this alternative system gives the anxious mind something else to focus on and return back to a state of calm.
We have put together a brief list of different breathing techniques that can help you remain mindful and help you breathe your way to a state of calm.
Diaphragmatic Breathing: Also known as belly breathing, this technique involves taking slow, deep breaths through your nose, filling up your lungs completely, and then exhaling through your mouth with a whooshing sound. As you inhale, focus on expanding your belly, and as you exhale, focus on relaxing your muscles. Repeat for several minutes until you feel calm and relaxed.
Box Breathing: To use the box breathing method, inhale slowly and deeply for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, and then exhale slowly for four seconds, and then hold your breath for four seconds before starting over. This method works to return breathing to its normal rhythm and can be highly useful in stressful situations.
Equal Breathing: The equal breathing technique is practiced by inhaling for the same amount of time as you’re exhaling. For example, you may inhale for a count of five, and then exhale for a count of five. As you inhale and exhale, be mindful of the feelings of fullness and emptiness in your lungs.
4-7-8 Breathing: This technique involves inhaling through your nose for a count of four, holding your breath for a count of seven, and then exhaling through your mouth for a count of eight. When practiced regularly, it’s possible that this technique could help some people fall asleep in a shorter period of time.
Alternate Nostril Breathing: This technique involves sitting comfortably and using your thumb and ring finger to alternate closing one nostril at a time while breathing in through the open nostril and exhaling through the closed nostril. Studies have shown that using this breathing technique regularly can improve lung function, motor function and memory, whilst also reducing blood pressure and heart rate.
Breathing exercises can be an effective way to manage stress and promote relaxation. Incorporating these simple techniques into your daily routine can help to reduce stress, anxiety, and other negative emotions, and improve your overall quality of life.
Remember to practice these techniques regularly and in a comfortable, distraction-free environment to get the most benefit. If you find that your stress levels persist or worsen, it's always important to seek professional help from a mental health professional.