How to reduce stress with controlled breathing.
Take a moment to analyze how you breathe. When you are calm and relaxed, you are breathing slowly, deeply — as naturally as possible. If you are afraid or stressed, your breaths turn into shallow ones. You inhale and exhale faster, and sometimes you may even feel that no amount of air will be enough to fill your lungs. If you would like to learn to calm your body and mind, learn controlled breathing.
There were numerous studies on how breathing exercises affect the human body and the ability to control emotions. There is no doubt that controlled breathing influences our systems positively. It can help you reduce your stress level quite a lot and make you simply feel better. Breathing comes naturally to all of us. All you have to do is to learn how to do it more efficiently.
How the right breathing relieves stress
The idea that the way we breathe can help us control the way we think and feel may sound silly, but let us consider the notion in more detail. When you are stressed, your breathing gets faster and shallower, and when you are calm and comfortable, both your breathing speed and heart rate decrease. That is how your body reacts to emotions. Why does it work this way? Because our respiratory system is directly linked to our autonomic nervous system. In some situations, you can leverage this correlation to calm yourself down just by controlled breathing.
The main goal of the respiratory exchange is to absorb oxygen and get rid of excess carbon dioxide through the lungs. The muscles that control that process are intercostal muscles (between ribs) and the diaphragm (the big muscle underneath the lungs). When we are stressed, anxious, angry, or feel very strong emotions, our breathing patterns change - we take short, shallow breaths and our chest is moving faster. Controlled, correct breathing - deep and calm - should cause our stomach to move. Why? When the lungs are filled with air completely, they need more space, so the diaphragm moves down and the intercostal muscles feel like they're pushing the ribs outside.
When you are stressed, you don’t provide your system with the right amount of oxygen and your anxiety can last longer. If you keep on taking long, controlled breaths, your body will get enough oxygen. Your breathing rate will decrease and become more regular. This sends a message to the nervous system: “I’m safe. Everything is alright”. That is how controlled breathing helps people to reduce stress.
Controlled breathing — what it is and how to perform it?
Controlled breathing is sometimes also referred to as “pursed lips breathing” or “deep breathing”. The primary purpose of this exercise is to get as much air as possible into your lungs. It is “controlled” because it requires you to focus on the activity. Inhale, exhale — do it properly, and you will be able to slow down your breathing and provide your body with the right amount of oxygen.
Diaphragmatic breathing vs chest breathing
So, what is the proper way of breathing? As we have already mentioned, there are two types of breathing:
● chest breathing — when your chest is rising and falling,
● diaphragmatic breathing — when the lungs are filling with air completely and the diaphragm moves down, and your stomach is expanding to make more space for the lungs. When you are breathing from your chest, you take shallow breaths.
We don’t do it often, but it is this second way of breathing that is far more efficient. That is why you should practice controlled breathing. Observe how your chest and stomach react to you taking a breath.
How to practice controlled breathing — instructions
Perhaps you have never tried breathing exercises. In that case, you should find a peaceful, quiet place to perform it for the first time. It is recommended to practice correct breathing in a sitting or standing position. When you lie down, your diaphragm will not move as strongly as when you are standing. You can open the window in the room you’re in or practice outside if it is not too cold. Follow the steps described below:
Get into the right position — sit upright or stand straight. Remember not to keep your head down.
Assess your breath — before you start the exercise, just sit or stand comfortably. Breathe gently in and out with your lips pursed together, just as you do most of the time. Of course, now you are probably calm, so your breath will be slow, yet rather shallow, as normally we do not use the entire capacity of our lungs. Think of how you breathe now.
Inhale with the nose, exhale with your mouth — now, take a deep breath with your nose. Feel the air going down to your throat and the lungs and keep filling it. The air goes down to the bottom of the lungs to make space for more air and pushes the diaphragm down. Pucker your lips a little (as if you are about to whistle quietly) and exhale with your mouth slowly. See if you can make your exhalation twice as long as the inhale to empty your lungs as much as you can and prepare them for another inhale. But remember - do not hold your breath!
Learn the difference — put one of your hands on your stomach and another on the ribs on the side of your chest. Do not focus on controlled breathing for a while. Check how your body is working, when you don’t perform mindful breathing. Now repeat the exercise from step 3. Take a long, deep, controlled breath. Feel the air going all the way down and pushing the diaphragm down. Your belly should be puffed and growing as you inhale, and the chest should feel like it's slowly expanding from the air accumulating inside. Now, exhale — make it last twice as long as the inhale. Do you feel your diaphragm returning to its original position?
Relax — as you exhale, try to imagine your body getting heavy. Your neck relaxes. Your shoulders go down. Your spine is no longer stiff as it was just a few minutes before. Not only your body calmed down, but your mind as well.
When you use upper chest muscles, each breath is more shallow, remember about taking deep, controlled breaths. Check if your diaphragm is moving — that’s the sign that you are taking deep, healthy breaths. Control the air also when you exhale.
You should feel the effects of deep breathing shortly after practicing. Try it at work during the break, when you are tired, or when you are stressed. After doing some breathing exercises, you will feel much better. You will relax, and you will be able to focus on your tasks again. Controlled breathing has many benefits. It makes the whole body work better, more efficiently.
How to stick to the controlled breathing exercises in the long run?
As you can see, there is nothing difficult about controlled breathing. The biggest problem is that you have to remember to do it regularly or when you are feeling strong emotions that change the way you breathe. You can try to remind yourself about practicing. Make a break at work at the same hour, or perform controlled breathing just after you wake up and before you go to sleep. Make it a habit. A minimalist watch, such as Mudita Moment can help you with that. There is a simple, but the important message engraved on the case back — Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. This will remind you of a regular practice every time you look at your watch.
We are all surrounded by information overload. It is attacking us from every corner - an endless stream of messages and notifications from our smartphones that are always right next to us, both when we work and when we rest. Replacing this cacophony from your smartphone simply by switching to a minimalist phone and traditional gadgets like the Mudita Moment watch can help you reduce stress significantly and get some time for actual rest.
Take a deep breath, and think about it.
If you'd like to learn more about Mindful Breathing and why it matters please take a look at our page dedicated to the subject or read our recent blog post about the importance of breathing exercises.
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