- Written by Dr. Stephanie Shelburne Dr. Stephanie Shelburne
Have you ever had moments of unexplained anxiety and agitation that seem to fail all attempts to calm? Maybe it's your breath...
Okay, maybe not your breath per se, more like, is the quality of your breathing pattern causing you stress and anxiety. That may seem like an odd question, I mean, breathing is something we do without thinking about it, right?? Unless, of course, for some reason we can't and then we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that breathing is not something to take for granted.
For most people, the breathing process is something that just sort of happens without a second thought. Yet, did you know that unhealthy breathing patterns can actually put your body into a stress response, even if you aren't necessarily feeling or experiencing stress? Or that a limited breathing cycle can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety??? It can also exacerbate pain and even contribute to significant gastrointestinal issues. That's right, your breathing pattern could be the root cause or contributing factor to that mystery chronic ailment that no one can seem to find or fix.
Healthy breathing isn't just a matter of oxygen vs carbon dioxide balance in the body. Inhaling and exhaling is much more than just a bio-chemical reaction. How you breathe impacts every single system in your body, including your organs, tissue, and how energy is channeled.
Here's how it works (without, hopefully, getting too science-geeky and technical):
Arousal and Release
And she was terribly aware that she was alive. Not just living and breathing, but...ALIVE ~M.B.
Breathing is intimately tied to your nervous system function. Your inhale stimulates and is stimulated by the part of your nervous system reponsible for activation (also, fight/flight/freeze). That's called the Sympathetic System. In the world of stress management, the Sympathetic system can get a bad name because when it's activated chronically, it results in a prolonged stress response that is harmful. However, the truth is, you need your sympathetic system to be viable, happy, and active. Without it you couldn't inhale, swallow, or for that matter be aroused in those critical intimate moments. So have a little sympathy for your sympathetic system.
After you inhale, you need to exhale (or suffer some serious repercussions). Exhaling is stimulated by and stimulates what is called the Para-sympathetic function. It is the release side of your nervous system. It's also responsible for things like resting and digesting. When people are stressed out they tend to short change their exhalation and this ends up being a problem. Para-sympathetic function is responsible for sounding the 'all clear' in your body and encouraging the other systems of the body to operate optimally.
Recap: Inhale = Arousal... exhale = release.
Tip: When you are feeling anxious, you can allow your exhale to last twice as long as your inhale and it will begin to calm your system so you can think clearly.
Remember to breathe. It is after all, the secret of life. ~G.B.
Respiration occurs on many levels of the body. It is responsible for moving chemicals and nutrients across boundaries so it is an important function to keep open and flowing. In the lungs, there is a critical exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. In the cells, there is a critical exchange of nutrients and waste products. Short changing the exchange of any of these processes results in broken systems.
Breathing correctly requires an even flow of inhale and exhale, past the chest and down into the belly. Most people breathe into their upper chest and no further. The belly and ribs should expand when you breathe rather than the chest and shoulders rising and falling up towards your ears. It's best if your breath is able to flow evenly in and out. People who are used to chest breathing can end up stopping their breath before they exhale; almost like an inaudible grunt. This actually short circuits communication in the nervous system and can send a message of stress or danger even when there is none.
Dysfunctional breathing or inadequate oxygenation contribute to a chronic biochemical pattern of stress; which in turn contributes to digestive issues, the inability to manage pain, issues with memory loss, inability to focus, even compromised immune function.
When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace. ~anonymous
Here is a quick and easy breathing exercise that can help you recalibrate in just a few minutes of breathing:
First, make sure you are sitting comfortably. Then, place your hands on your belly; as you inhale through your nose, allow your belly to rise under your hands and say to yourself "Soft". Next as you exhale through your mouth, feel your belly soften and fall as you say to yourself "Belly". Continue this cycle for at least a minute and notice what happens.