Mastering a Calming Breath When You’re Stressed is a Simple Stress Management Technique
Are you stressed most of the time? Did you know that mastering the calming breath is an easy-to-learn stress management technique that can be practiced anywhere?
You have probably taken a deep breaths before plunging into something – a difficult conversation, serving a tennis ball, trying not to cry. When you sigh, you are unconsciously using this relaxation technique by inhaling more air than usual and exhaling. Breathing deeply has a calming and centering effect, and you can do it anyplace, anytime for a quick fix for acute stress.
Whenever you’re stressed– your respiratory rate jumps, your heart rate increases, your blood pressure elevates and your system is flooded with adrenaline and other stress hormones.
In a relaxed state, your physiological system does almost the exact opposite of this flight or fight response. Your respiratory rate slows, your heart slows, blood pressure dips, pupils contract, you sweat less. In short, your body comes out of emergency mode. You start calming down.
What’s astounding is that you can initiate this calming response by simply learning to change your breathing patterns. It works because the act of breathing has a very special property. Normally we all breathe without even thinking about it. No matter what we’re doing, sleeping or running a marathon, our lungs take in oxygen and pump out carbon dioxide.
It’s what anatomy books call an automatic function. Just the way the heart keeps the blood circulating, the lungs automatically inhale and exhale. The interesting thing is that although we breathe automatically we can also learn to control our breath. So, we can hold our breath as we dive into a pool or slow it down to help ourselves be more serene in the midst of what we thought was a “crisis.”
Are there other advantage of a calming breath?
This type of breathing technique also improves the efficiency with which we breathe. It works like this: As you breathe, oxygen enters the lungs and travels into millions of alveoli, or tiny air sacs. These delicate membranes are surrounded by a myriad of blood vessels. Here oxygen is transferred to the blood stream. The arteries move the oxygen out to brain, muscles, nerves, and internal organs, aiding a host of vital functions.
If you’re breathing shallowly, the flow of air, including the oxygen, tends to concentrate in the upper two-thirds of the lungs. This area is less blood rich than the lower part. So, when breathing shallowly, you have to breathe more rapidly to get the proper amount of oxygen out through the body. This means the lungs and heart have to work harder than they would if you were breathing deeply. The result: your pulse rate goes up and even your blood pressure rises.
By breathing deeply into the lungs, a rich concentration of blood transports the oxygen out to the far corners of the body. In this case, your heart beats much more slowly to send out an equal amount of oxygen. The rate of your pulse slows and your blood pressure is decreased. The result is less strain on the heart and less fatigue for you.
Another key factor: In shallow breathing, you negatively affect the balance of gases in your blood stream. You’re inefficiently cleansing the body of the waste product, carbon dioxide. Excess carbon dioxide in the blood stream can adversely affect the blood’s acidity. The result? You feel fatigued, nervous and stressed.
It takes practice, but it is well worth the effort. The next time that you’re feeling stressed, you will know that you can instantly feel calmer and clear headed with a calming breath– a most effective stress management technique.