As discussed in my previous post, breathing is an incredibly effective anxiety management tool.
Often times, I see posts on social media, and posters in office buildings telling people to breathe. I discussed the basics of diaphragmatic breathing or “belly breathing” in my previous post but wanted to discuss the physiology of WHY it works.
Sympathetic vs. Parasympathetic nervous system
I don’t want to dive too deep into medical jargon but this is one of the biggest buy-ins for my clients in regards to trying belly breathing. The parasympathetic nervous system controls the body at rest and is responsible for helping the body rest, digest, and reach a level of balance.
The sympathetic nervous system, controls our “fight or flight” response, which tends to rear its ugly head when we are anxious. It increases heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol, also known as the stress hormone in our bodies.
If you’ve ever been anxious and felt the need to escape a situation or abruptly leave a room, your “fight or flight” response is likely kicking in.
The good news is, the prescription to get back to the “rest and digest” system is simple. Considering the way this post is going, it shouldn’t surprise you that the answer is belly breathing.
Belly breathing benefits:
- Releases serotonin, which is believed to regulate mood, social behavior, memory, and sleep.
- Reduces cortisol in the body.
- Regulates heart rate & decreases blood pressure.
So belly breathing should be practiced frequently so that it is easier to access at times of stress. I recommend practicing 3x a day (I do so before or after meals, because its the easiest way for me to remember).
When you are practicing diaphragmatic breathing, breathe in deeply from your nose, have one hand on your belly and the other one your chest and try to breathe deeply into your belly for a count of 6. You should feel the hand on your belly rise, while the hand on your chest stays relatively still (this is a skill and it take practice). Doing this kick starts your parasympathetic nervous system. Hold the breath for a count of 6, and then exhale through your mouth for a count of six. Repeat three times or until your body is feeling a bit more relaxed.
Have you tried this?! I’d love to know if it has or hasn’t worked for you! Or message me with any questions you have or other topics you’d like me to cover.
Lara Abounayan, Associate MFT