Breathing for stress and anxiety
Updated: Aug 6, 2019
Breathing is an everyday occurrence. We don't have to think about it. We are constantly in a state of auto pilot, breathing in and out.
Let's get real - everybody is stressed. You see a friend and ask them how they are, more often than not they will say 'busy, very busy'. A consequence of this ongoing stress is chest breathing.
As you are sitting here reading this take a moment to note your posture. Are you sitting slumped at your desk, shoulders hunched, head leaning forward over you chosen device? Did I just make you sit up straight? Did you just take a big breath in?
In our day to day lives we often slump into bad postures, compressing our diaphragm. Breathing into this upper thoracic area shortens our breath which decreases oxygen supply to the blood. Continued breathing into the chest also contracts the neck muscles, adding to that tight and sore neck we so often see with stress.
Being stressed day in and day out switches on what we call the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) AKA 'fight or flight'. Prolonged exposure to this state is called SNS dominance. Activation of the SNS tells the body to conserve its energy. Generally our body will do this by inhibiting intestinal and stomach motility, contracting the bladder and decreasing the response from the adrenals and pancreas. Sounds scary!
So how do we get out of this sympathetic nervous system dominance and back to an equilibrium?
.......breathing of course.
Diaphragmatic breathing, where we breath deep into our bellies, helps activate our parasympathetic nervous system AKA 'rest and digest'. In this state we begin to produce more saliva, kick starting our first stage of digestion.
Next time you are stressed or feeling anxious take some time out to sit up straight and do some deep belly breathing to help switch on the parasympathetic nervous system.
Its a great tool that is always available to you - no excuses - this is free medicine people! 3 Deep Belly Breaths Next time you feel anxious, stressed, or like your fuse is about to snap remember this article and breath! Take a moment to yourself and take three deep, long, belly breaths. The idea here is to fill the belly with air. Let your belly go out, really go out, filling your lower belly with air. As you breathe count the length of your in breath and your out breath. This is your starting point - challenge your self and try to extend these numbers as you continue the therapy. Alternate nostril (Nadi Shodhan Prananyama) If you're a yogi you may have tried this one, if not all the better reason to change it. Get comfortable. Place your index finger and middle finger between your two eyebrows in the centre of your forehead. Using your thumb press your right nostril shut and breathe in through your left. Release your thumb and block your left nostril with your ring finger and pinky as you breathe out through your right nostril. Now, repeat in the opposite direction, breathing in from the right nostril whilst blocking the left and breathing out from the left nostril whilst blocking the right. This technique helps activate both the left an right side of the brain and can help switch you into your parasympathetic nervous system - time to rest and digest
Don't forget to reflect post breathing practice on how you feel. Notice the subtle changes in your body, saliva production, stress levels and anxiety.
About the Author
Chloe is a Naturopath practicing in Sydney's Inner West. She has a passion for women's health and loves helping her clients regain control over their stress and anxiety. Her approach focuses on incorporating an individualised treatment plan that best suits you. Key treatments start with a good nutritious diet and lifestyle changes along with nutritional and herbal medicine. To book an appointment with Chloe click here