Looking for the “how-to’s” of reducing stress and anxiety? Chances are, you might not be breathing properly. Over time, you breathe a certain way. It can either be by inhaling too much air, taking shallow breaths or unknowingly holding your breath. The way you breathe eventually becomes something you do as a habit.
Is the way you breathe just getting you by, or are you breathing in a way that optimizes how you work and perform?
Why How You Breathe Matters
Improper breathing can disrupt your sleep patterns and the way you feel during the day. Your breathing habits also have a negative impact on your muscles, brain, nervous system and heart.
To break it down, here are a few risks of breathing incorrectly:
- Your nervous system gets overly excited, making you anxious and stressed.
- Increased muscle tension and tightening blood vessels make your heart work harder, increasing blood pressure and tiring you out faster.
- Your brain receives less oxygen, making it more difficult to think through situations logically, which also creates dizziness and headaches.
Not good. However, learning the proper way to breathe can help you think and work better. It’s also better for your health in general.
For instance, breathing correctly provides these benefits:
- Reduced blood pressure, which is easier on the heart and helps you become more relaxed.
- Your nervous system is in equilibrium, lowering stress levels.
- The oxygen flows more easily to the brain, helping you to think with more clarity.
When we start breathing the wrong way, it works against us because we can’t think through issues and sometimes freeze up instead.
First off, let’s see what your breathing looks like.
How to Evaluate Your Breathing
Photo by Odua Images/Shutterstock.com
To begin, place one hand flat on your chest and the other on your stomach, where your diaphragm is. Now, breathe how you normally do on a regular basis. It can be tempting to alter your breathing for this exercise, but try to resist. Breathe as if you were doing a simple task, such as surfing the net.
How did it feel? What did you notice? Make a mental note of what happened before moving onto the next step. With one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach again, try breathing short breaths with your mouth so that your breathing is shallow.
This time, what did you notice? How did it compare to your regular breathing?
You might have noticed that your chest expands and contracts, while your diaphragm doesn’t move as much. This is similar to how you might breathe when you’re under stress. Your breaths become shorter, your shoulders hunch up and you feel your chest tighten. Or, conversely, you might hold your breath when you’re in a tense situation.
Even if you think that your breathing remains regular when you’re stressed, breathing is something we do subconsciously.
It’s very likely that your breathing changes according to your mental or physical state.
How to Breathe Correctly
Ever hear someone tell you, “Just take a deep breath?” While that’s correct, it’s only part of the story. The other important component of breathing properly is to exhale all that air. When someone tells you to take a deep breath, what might end up happening is that you breathe in a lot of air, but end up holding it in and forget to breathe for a while.
Step-by-step, let’s go through this breathing exercise together:
- Just as you did before, place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
- Sigh, as if you just had a long day. Let your shoulders drop and your muscles relax. At the same time, don’t let all the air out of your lungs—the point of sighing is to relax your upper body.
- Close your mouth again and pause. Stop breathing and count to three.
- While keeping your mouth closed, slowly inhale air through your nose. Be aware and mindful of the way you inhale. Your stomach should expand, while your chest remains relatively still. Once again, pause and count to three.
- Finally, breathe out by opening your mouth and letting your stomach go back in. This is your diaphragm contracting.
- Once again, pause.
- Repeat the process from steps 3 to 7.
It’s best to try breathing like this when you have some time to yourself. Do it when you’re in a calm mood and without distractions that could make you tense. Even setting aside two to three minutes a day to go through this exercise will help you practice breathing more calmly.