“Take a deep breath!” How many times have you heard this whenever you were feeling anxious, stressed, worried, or even annoyed. So many people around us encourage us to take deep breaths, but why? Why is deep breathing important for our emotional health? How does deep breathing help us calm down and regain control over our minds? Can deep breathing really help us with our emotions?
We breathe in and breathe out all day, every day. We’re not thinking about it and we surely don’t see breathing as a self-care activity. It comes naturally because it is our source of life. But how many times do we stop to take deep breaths? Deep breaths have the power to help us through the claws of tension, stress, and anxiety.
Why is deep breathing important?
Deep breathing practice is one of the tools humans have to improve their mental and physical health. Deep breathing techniques can help us reduce our stress levels, combat anxiety, lower our blood pressure, and even improve our posture. No drugs, no expensive aids involved or required. Just deep breaths!
Also known as diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing, deep breathing is often connected to meditation and relaxation techniques. Even though it is one of the ways to work on various mental health conditions and a powerful tool against stress, deep breathing is rarely used to its full potential.
When you take a deep breath, you breathe in air through your nose, fill your lungs, and your lower belly rises. Not many people enjoy the feeling of having a belly full of air. However, chest breathing to maintain a flat stomach limits the diaphragm’s range of motion. This deprives the lower part of the lungs of oxygen and can lead to shortness of breath and higher levels of tension and anxiety.
When we take deep breaths, we increase the amount of oxygen we take in and the amount of carbon dioxide we let out. And this has numerous benefits for our mental and physical health.
How can deep breathing help your mental health?
The main benefit of deep breathing is the impact it has on our stress level responsible for so many of our health problems. Harvard Health explains that stressful thoughts are usually associated with the “fight or flight” response when faced with what our brain interprets as danger. The stress response results in an adrenaline burst that creates increased blood pressure and heart rate. This may often result in shortness of breath and shallow breathing.
While the stress response has its purpose in times of real danger, when it appears often as a result of generalized anxiety disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder, it can cause harm to your body. That’s because your body doesn’t know the difference between real and perceived threats, and it always reacts as if it were in real danger. This leads to daily adrenaline bursts and an increased level of stress.
Deep breathing techniques can help you reverse the stress response by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure. Moreover, it calms your mind and induces a relaxation state.
How can deep breathing improve your physical health?
People who master the art of deep breathing enjoy a series of physical health benefits. Deep breathing helps improve core muscle stability and allows the body to better tolerate intense exercise. It’s an important tool for athletes who learn various deep breathing techniques to improve their stamina and increase energy levels.
Deep breathing can also lower the chances of your muscles wearing out. Breathing exercises help with the release of the air buildup in your lungs and allow for more oxygen to get to your blood. Moreover, studies show that deep breathing triggers the release of endorphins that help alleviate pain and, according to Smithsonian Magazine, can even improve immunity and digestion due to healthier blood flow.
Deep breathing is often recommended for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The disease decreases the diaphragm’s efficiency and affects oxygen intake. With the right breathing exercises, people suffering from COPD can strengthen their diaphragm’s muscle and help the lungs regain their elasticity. More elastic lungs facilitate diaphragmatic breathing and combat the tendency to stick to shallow breathing.
What are the most popular deep breathing techniques?
Deep breathing may feel unnatural at first. We are used to shallow breathing, and we’ll need to practice to learn how to allow the air to fill our lungs and belly. The most popular type of deep breathing requires you to breathe in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth.
Sit in a comfortable position. Put a hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Breathe in calmly, through your nose, for about five seconds. Feel the air traveling through your nostrils to the abdomen. Allow for your stomach to expand outward while trying to keep your chest still. Hold this breath in for three seconds and then slowly release the air through your mouth for five seconds or more if that feels comfortable. Follow this breathing pattern five times or more.
The 4-7-8 breathing technique adds counting to the steps mentioned above allowing you to gain more control of your breathing. Inhale while counting to four, hold your breath for seven seconds, and then exhale while counting to eight. Use your hand to push the air out of your stomach. Repeat the pattern for as long as you consider it to be necessary to achieve a calm state of mind.
You can also try rib-stretch breathing. For this exercise, you need to stand up straight with your back arched. Breathe out until you get tired, and then inhale the air slowly and gradually. Breathe in as much air as you can. Hold your breath for 10 seconds. Release the air slowly through your mouth.
Deep breathing should always be slow and gentle. Don’t be afraid to fill your abdomen with air. Keep your hands on your stomach and chest. Make sure your stomach is rising, and pay attention to your breath and heartbeat. Be aware of everything that happens in your body.
Remember though that sometimes deep breathing may not be enough for your mental health in order to feel better. Sometimes they need guidance from professionals who can help them externalize their most intimate fears and manage their emotions. This is when deep breathing techniques should be associated with therapy and counseling. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! You are not alone!