Have you ever noticed how you breathe in different circumstances? The next time you feel relaxed, notice your breathing and how your body feels. Conversely, notice how you breathe when you are rushing or anxious and the impact that is having on your body.
Breathing works to manage our stress because changing the rhythm of your breath can signal relaxation. That means slowing your heart rate and stimulating the nerve which runs from your brain stem to your abdomen. That nerve is part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s “rest and digest” activities - in contrast to the sympathetic nervous system, which regulates many of our “fight or flight” responses. Triggering your parasympathetic nervous system helps you start to calm down. You feel better. And your ability to think rationally returns.
Breathing is also effective because it can be very difficult for most of us to talk our way out of strong emotions like stress, anxiety, or anger. Just think about how ineffective it is when someone tells you to “calm down” when you are feeling extreme stress. When we are in that highly stressed state, our prefrontal cortex — the part of our brain responsible for rational thinking — is impaired so logic rarely helps us regain control. This can make it hard to think straight or be emotionally intelligent. But breathing techniques can help you gain some mastery over your mind.
Research also shows that different emotions are associated with different forms of breathing, so changing how we breathe can also change how we feel. For example, when you feel joy, your breathing will be regular, deep and slow. If you feel anxious or angry, your breathing will be irregular, short, fast, and shallow. When you follow breathing patterns associated with different emotions, you’ll actually begin to feel those corresponding emotions.
There are lots of breathing exercises you can do to help relax. So give it a go and notice the difference it makes. Belly breathing is simple to learn and easy to do if you have never done breathing exercises before.
After you have mastered belly breathing, you may want to try a more advanced breathing exercise, for example 4-7-8 breathing.
4-7-8 breathing also uses belly breathing to help you relax. Again, you can do this exercise either sitting or lying down.