Although we all have to breathe, many of us do not realize that the way we breathe is essential. Our breath links to our nervous system, which impacts how we feel, what we think, and how we act. People often feel like their life stressors get out of control, and their anxiety is increasing. This can often result from how they are breathing. This article is all about how to use deep breathing to calm down.
Have you seen those people who seem to be able to multitask efficiently and balance multiple stressors but yet they do not seem to be running on fumes? They somehow seem calm as they navigate a healthy work-life balance. Well, you can do this too. All you need to do is learn how to breathe in a way that supports your mind and body.
To understand deep breathing, let’s take a closer look at how our breathing can help us manage stress by exploring the nervous system.
“Fight or Flight Vs “Rest and Digest”
Behind our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors lie several additional symptoms, one of which is the nervous system. The human nervous stem is split into two the central and peripheral nervous system. The central nervous system includes the brain and spinal cord. Then, the peripheral nervous system is divided into the somatic and autonomic nervous system. The somatic nervous system is involved in the movement of our skeletal muscles. In contrast, the autonomic nervous system is involved in several automatic and regulatory functions. These functions break down into the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
The Sympathetic Nervous System
The sympathetic nervous system links to our “fight or flight” response that responds when we feel under threat physically or psychologically. This system prepares us to respond to a threat. It does this by increasing the heart rate, inhibiting digestive and immune systems, expanding the lungs, and releasing the hormones epinephrine/norepinephrine. If we live in chronic stress, this system can wreak havoc on our life.
The Parasympathetic Nervous System
The parasympathetic nervous system is also known as the “rest and digest,” is the counter to the sympathetic nervous system and helps the body to recover. The faster one can move from the sympathetic system to the parasympathetic system; the more resilient they become as their body has time to rest, which allows for greater well-being. Many of us do not make time in our lives to link into the parasympathetic nervous system by resting and relaxing.
We live in a fast-paced world full of stressors that often activate our sympathetic nervous system that links to “fight or flight.” Our brains and bodies were not created to live in this state of hyperarousal, but yet many people do, which is why we have seen such an increase in anxiety-related disorders and burn out. Many people do not realize they are putting so much pressure on their bodies by operating from their sympathetic nervous system and failing to find time to link into the parasympathetic to recover.
Nervous System and Deep Breathing
As you can see, our autonomic nervous system can have a massive impact on how we feel and behave. Neuroscience has shown that when the stress response dominates our nervous system, you are more prone to irritability, anxiety, negative mood, and behavioral rigidity. When we are stressed, we have limited access to our higher cognitive functions. This limited access limits our capacity for effective communication.
Although our nervous system may respond automatically to our external environment. So, we can help reduce the impact of life stressors by controlling how we breathe. When you inhale, your breath links to the sympathetic nervous system. Then, your exhale links to your parasympathetic nervous system. So, when you extend your exhales, you link into the “rest and digest” system.
So, when we breathe in a way that links into the parasympathetic nervous system, we will experience a more calm feeling. This calmer feeling also relates to higher levels of thinking, even in the face of stress.
When you feel stressed you can decide to take some deep diaphragm belly breathing which will stop the fight or flight reaction from taking over. This will make it a lot easier to overcome any challenge. The hardest part of deep breathing to calm down is remembering to do it.
Deep Breathing To Calm Down
- Be Mindful of Your Breath: Begin by noticing your breath. When you become more mindful of how you are breathing, you can notice that when you feel anxious. When you are more anxious, your breathing becomes shallow and is in the upper chest.
- Exhale: Start by exhaling all of your air out of your lungs and stomach. The exhale will help you connect with the parasympathetic nervous system.
- Use Your Diaphragm: It can be helpful to place a hand on your belly button and send your air to your hand. When you breathe with the bottom of your stomach, you also tap into your Vagus nerve. Your Vagus nerve also connects to the parasympathetic nervous system, which reduces the stress reaction in the body.
- Inhale 4 Counts: Inhale with your nose and send your air to the bottom of your stomach using your diaphragm. Notice the sensations connected to your stomach filling up with air. Once your stomach is full, take the air into your lungs, side ribs, back then chest.
- Exhale For 5 or 6 Counts: Then exhale the air through your nose. Start with your chest, down to your rib cage, then lower stomach. Bring your belly button towards your spine as you push the last bit of air out at the bottom of the exhale.
- Inhale 4 Counts and continue the cycle between inhale and exhale 5-10 times.
We often fail to recognize the connection between the mind and body. Breathing is the link that can help you find a sense of calm and grounding in any situation. Starting to get in the habit of sending your breath to the bottom of your stomach and increasing the length of your exhales can boost your resilience and ability to handle stress with more ease.
For millennia eastern cultures have understood the importance of diaphragmatic breathing. To find more breathing exercises, you can look up yogic breathing, also known as pranayama. Many breathing techniques can help you build greater health and well-being. So, when you are feeling stressed, be sure you try deep breathing to calm down.