Deep Breathing and Relaxation

Counting to ten has been the remedy for stressful situations for ages. What happens when we combine counting with deep breathing? In this article, you'll learn about the connection between stress and breathing, get information about deep breathing benefits, and some helpful breathing exercises.

A stressful situation completely changes the physiology of our body - breathing speeds up and our heart beat quickens in our chests. And it doesn’t matter what the situation is or where it takes place. It can occur at work during an important meeting or when the deadline for submitting your report is too quickly approaching. It can be related to the external environment, such as a traffic jam, or it can also occur at home when you have quarrel with your partner.

Do you know what is usually recommended when you have a stressful situation or an attack of panic?

It's: "Breathe! Count from one to ten and breathe!”

Is it really that simple? Surprisingly yes, it is!


So what is so magical about deep breathing that everyone suggests it for stress reduction?

To answer that we should look at the ways our bodies respond to stress. Our bodies react in a stressful situation like it would have done many thousands of years ago (when couldn’t go outside for fear of being eaten by a T-rex). When this stressful situation takes place, our body is ready to either fight for its existence or to run away to save itself. You may have heard about the "fight or flight" reaction. Although such a reaction is designed to keep us safe, in the modern world when it's experienced on a long-term basis, it usually causes some sort of illness (read more about stress symptoms from this article).

Do you know how your body reacts to stress? If you experience a threat to your safety, the first reaction is a physiological acceleration:

  • Muscles tense
  • Breathing becomes faster
  • Heart rate becomes more rapid
  • Palms of hands and soles of feet start to sweat
  • Glucose and fatty acids are released into the bloodstream (thus adding energy to our body for the act of fighting or running)
  • Adrenaline and noradrenaline are released into the bloodstream

When all this happens, you can relax your body with deep breathing as this lowers your blood pressure and heart rate very quickly. If you've heard about pranayama breathing, I'd say, it is the same thing.


So what are the benefits of deep breathing?

Deep breathing...

  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Slows your heart rate
  • Can improve the functioning of the respiratory system
  • Can improve the functioning of the cardiovascular system
  • Can reduce the effects of stress
  • Can improve physical and mental health
  • Has a positive effect on the functioning of the immune system
  • Has a balancing effect on the autonomic nervous system 
  • Has a positive effect on mental or stress-related disorders


deep breathing benefits

How to practice deep breathing effectively?

Let me guide you!

Breathe deeply and focus on expanding the abdominal area. Not sure you're doing it right? To see if your stomach moves during breathing, you can place your hand on the abdomen, above your diaphragm ( just above your belly button). In this way, you will feel how it pushes out during inhalation.

Deep breathing can be done using different patterns. Let me give you some examples:

  1. When you breathe in, count to four and when you breathe out, count also to four (pattern 4 - 4).
  2. When you breathe in, count to four, hold the breath in counting to two. During exhalation, count to four and then hold the exhalation counting to two (pattern 4 - 2 - 4 - 2).
  3. When you breathe in, count to four, hold the breath counting to two. When you exhale count to six, hold the exhaled breath counting to two (pattern 4 - 2 - 6 - 2). Please note that extended exhalation helps you to relax even more.
  4. When you breathe in, count to three, hold the breath counting to two and then continue inhaling counting to three. Hold the breath again counting to two. When you exhale count to three, hold the breath counting to 2 and then continue to exhale counting to three. Then hold the breathing counting to two (pattern 3 - 2 - 3 - 2 - 3 - 2 - 3 - 2).

The added value of these kinds of breathing techniques is that when you have to focus on counting these numbers during your breaths, it is difficult (actually impossible) to think of anything else (for example, the stressful situation that got you here in the first place).


Wanna know even more amazing facts about deep breathing?

Emma Seppälä, PhD, Science Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education conducted two studies related to emotions and breathing. In the first study, she showed that different emotional states are associated with distinct respiration patterns. In the follow-up study, she showed that the specific breathing patterns created specific emotions. So with simple breathing we can change our emotions. For the better.

And now, when you have a stressful situation, please remember, that simple, slow, and deep breathing will change the physiology of your body. It helps your body to calm down, reduce your stress level and as a bonus, it also improves your physical and mental health. 


Source:
Novotny, S., & Kravitz, L. (2007). The science of breathing. IDEA Fitness Journal, 4(2), 36-43.


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​Photo by Thư Anh on Unsplash

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