When we are asked to think about what basic survival entails, we typically settle on food, water and shelter as the most obvious choices. However, how often do we throw the act of breathing into the mix? Unless you can willingly command your stomach to churn up what you had for dinner, breathing is a completely voluntary act – unlike digestion or heartbeat. It is considered such an automatic act that we sometimes forget how closely knit the quality and pattern of breathing is to our mental wellbeing and overall health.
Paying attention to how we breathe can have a tremendous effect on controlling stress and anxiety, but not enough of us realize that short, unconsciously shallow breaths are doing more harm than good. Adam Prinsen, a naturopathic doctor based in Petersborough, Ontario, notes:
A lot of people don’t realize they aren’t breathing properly… They are breathing in a way that reflects stress… they’re actually sending a message to their nervous system that they are stressed. It’s a vicious circle.
So how do we go about modifying our breathing patterns? First, take a look at how you breathe in different situations, like when anxiety creeps up before a huge event. How about when you’re relaxed after getting a well-deserved massage? When you can understand the way you breathe, try different exercises to help instill the habit of deep breathing.
One simple way to do so is to draw in deep, controlled breaths from the belly at designated times throughout the day. Aside from helping to reduce acidity in our body, controlled breathing forces us to slow down, lowers our blood pressure, and eases built up tension from within. For starters, count for an inhalation of 3 seconds, and then exhale through the nose for 3 seconds without pausing, and slowly work your way up. You might sound remarkably like Darth Vader, but that’s a better tradeoff than tearing your hair out when you’re stressed or succumbing to road rage during rush hour.