Anxiety disorders and panic attacks affect millions of people’s mental health worldwide. The symptoms of anxiety can range from mild to severe and can impact a person’s ability to function in their daily life.
Deep breathing exercises are a simple yet effective way to reduce anxiety symptoms and benefit your mental health and well-being. In this article, we will explore how deep breathing exercises can help calm the nervous system and provide relief from stress and anxiety.
How Shallow Breathing Contributes to Anxiety
Shallow breathing or upper chest breathing is a common pattern of breathing that is often associated with anxiety. When we take shallow breaths, we do not take in enough oxygen, and this can cause an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and tension in the body. Breathing patterns like this can become a habit without even realizing it.
Shallow breathing activates the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the “fight or flight” response. This causes a stress response which leads to a feeling of anxiety. Rapid breaths have the same effect. They trigger the same nervous system response that can cause you to feel anxious.
How Breathing Exercises Can Help Calm Your Nervous System
Breathing exercises can help to calm the nervous system, promote relaxation, and provide anxiety relief. Deep breathing and slow breathing techniques can activate the vagus nerve and the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the “rest and digest” response. Breathing properly and learning breath control can help to lower blood pressure, reduce tension in the body, and decrease feelings of stress and anxiety.
Studies have shown that mindfulness based stress reduction techniques, like conscious breathing exercises, may be as effective as medication in reducing anxiety and depression.
Deep breathing, also known as abdominal breathing, involves taking a slow, deep breath from the belly, allowing the lungs to fully expand. This technique can be done sitting or lying down, and it is a simple way to promote relaxation and calmness.
Deep breathing exercises can also be helpful for disorders like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The symptoms of COPD include breathing more shallowly and shortness of breath. Breathing exercises can help COPD patients better manage their symptoms by strengthening the diaphragm muscle, which helps to open the lungs fully.
Slow controlled breathing involves taking slow easy breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth, slowing breathing down to a rate much slower than your normal rate. This technique can help to regulate breathing, increase breath awareness (also called coherent breathing), reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, and trigger a relaxation response.