Breathing techniques for stress: how do they help?
“When the breath wanders, the mind is unsteady, but when the breath is still, so is the mind still”. Hatha Yoga Pradipika
Breath is life. We can live for days without food and water but without breath, it’s down to a matter of minutes. Most of us take our breathing for granted and have forgotten how to breathe in an beneficial way.
Let’s take a closer look at:
- The importance of breathing for our mind and emotions.
- The connection between breath and stress.
- Two simple breathing techniques to try at home.
- How breathing can physically affect our body.
The mind and emotions
“Peace of Mind” is a mental state of calmness or tranquillity, a freedom from worry and anxiety.
The state of the body affects the mind and emotions. Studies show that when you smile, your brain responds, and you begin to feel happier feelings. They also show that different types of breathing prompts different emotions. So, changing how we breathe can change how we feel.
When we feel joy, breathing can be regular, deep and slow. Additionally, the deep and slow breathing can make our muscles relax and let go. If you feel anxious or stressed, your breathing becomes irregular, fast and shallow. This fast and irregular breathing can make our muscles become tense and strained.
Breathing techniques benefit the function of your body and can teach us how to control and calm the mind. When we pay attention to our breath, it can make us more aware of our thinking, feelings and behaviour. We can become aware of your thoughts and learn how to manage them.
Being more aware of our thoughts teaches us self-discipline. It gives clarity with what we want to achieve in life. While mastering control of our thoughts, we can develop a deeper awareness of our emotions. Better control of the mind and emotions gives us the freedom to find happiness and joy in life.
Establish better management of your emotions and thought patterns. It’s empowering and highly beneficial, particularly for handling stressful situations.
The stress hormone
Adrenal glands sit on our kidneys, and they’re part of our endocrine system. Our adrenals are responsible for releasing a hormone called cortisol. This is otherwise known as our ‘stress hormone’. Our stress hormone activates for various physical and mental reasons. When we are feeling anxious, stressed or worried, it can increase. When we are feeling physical pain or threat, it can increase. Clinical research has shown that it will affect our heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
Cortisol can begin firing at the wrong time when we experience long term stress. This is known as adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue signs can start displaying as trouble falling or staying asleep. High levels of anxiety or over reacting to stressful moments can also begin to develop.
Studies have shown that diaphragmatic (deep) breathing can improve cortisol levels and cognitive performance.1 Daily breathing exercises will no doubt help you manage your stress levels. Ultimately leading to a healthier body and balanced mood.
Try these breathing techniques
Take a moment each day to sit, breathe and listen to your thoughts and mood. Hearing how you feel will help you let go of things that are causing you stress and anxiety. Take back the power and manage your stress levels in a healthy way.
Here’s a super easy 10-minute breathing technique called ‘4-7-8 breathing’. We highly recommend bringing it into your daily routine twice a day, or whenever you need it.
- Sit either with your legs crossed on the ground or in a comfortable but straight-backed chair to ensure your lungs can fully expand
- Place the tip of the tongue behind the top of the front teeth
- Breathe out fully
- Breathe in gently through the nose for the count of 4 seconds
- Hold the breath for the count of 7 seconds
- Now breathe out forcefully through the mouth by pursing the lips making a “whoosh” sound for the count of 8 seconds
- Repeat the cycle for up to 10 minutes
Note: It is important you are seated during this breathing practice and do not drive or operate any heavy machinery.
Another breathing technique we love is called 'Belly Button Breathing'. This is great when you are short on time but you need that short moment to ground your mind and thoughts. Follow these simple steps from Brittany below:
The present moment
Body awareness through breathing can bring you to the present moment. Depression is the basis of regrets of the past. Anxiety is the basis of fear of the future. The present moment does not hold the past or future. A simple technique of being in the present will ultimately put you in a place of reduced depression and anxiety.
Breathing and our body
Breathing practice is an effective body-mind training for supporting stress and psychosomatic conditions. In the last decade, breathing techniques have attracted scientific study on the physiological benefits for the human body. The studies are showing that breathwork, or the daily practice of deep and controlled breathing, is paramount to good physical health.
When stressed, our breathing often changes. Breathing can become shallow, irregular and fast, and it’s often through our mouth. It stops us from using the full capacity of our lungs and diaphragm. This leaves stale air in our lungs with only a small amount of fresh, much needed, oxygen. Oxygen is essential for every cell in our body!
Slowing the breath can signal relaxation to the body by slowing the heart rate and stimulating the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in our body that runs from the brain through to the abdomen. It is part of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which maintains our ‘rest and digest’ activities. It controls and measures the function of internal organs such as the lungs, heart and digestive system. Triggering the PNS helps you calm down, think clearly and feel good.
Slow and deep breathing can help to:
- Slow our heart rate
- Lower blood pressure
- Relax muscles (including digestive)
- Calm nerve impulses
- Create a sense of mental calm
When we learn to slow down and breathe, we also become more in tune with our body, and it’s needs. For example, eating when we’re actually hungry (instead of comfort eating), going out for some fresh air when we feel the need to calm down, exercising when we need to release frustration, feeling and acknowledging that we need to slow down and rest.
Body and mind awareness can ultimately lead you to instinctively choosing healthier options and living a healthier, happier life.
About the Author
Rochelle Bailey is our BraveFace Registered Naturopath. Rochelle has over 10 years’ experience practicing in clinics and providing technical support within the natural health industry. She is passionate about the evolving field of natural health products and enjoys helping people find solutions for their health and wellbeing. Her main interests are stress and sleep management, nootropics and children's health.
- Xiao Ma, Zi-Qi Yue, et.al; (2017). The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults, Frontiers in Psychology. PMID: 28626434. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5455070/