Belly Breathing For Anxiety and Stress

posted in: Anxiety

Belly Breathing Calms Body and Mind

Breathing person during counselling imageBelly breathing is an easy way to reduce anxiety and calm the body and mind. It engages the diaphragm, the muscle deep within the chest that plays a major role in respiration, and also the vagus nerve, an information super-highway between the brain and body that also triggers our relaxation response. Belly breathing is a great calming exercise that anyone can do, quickly and conveniently. You’re already breathing, why not make it really count!

Even brief flashes of anxiety or stress cause your body’s sympathetic nervous system to engage. This means it automatically and involuntarily switches to ‘fight or flight mode’. A flood of hormones instantly boosts your heart rate, sending more oxygen-rich blood to your muscles; your breathing quickens and your bloodstream gets a shot of glucose for the boost of energy your brain thinks you need to survive the challenge of the moment. This system works like a charm when you’re facing actual, physical threats, but because it also reacts in the exact same ways when we’re just thinking about frightening or stressful things, this heightened state of arousal can actually begin to wear your body down.

Belly breathing which takes you out of ‘fight or flight’ and returns your body to the calmer and more relaxing state of ‘resting and digesting’. Belly breathing turns your parasympathetic nervous system back on so that your body can go back to producing its happy and calming chemicals, including serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine.

Breathing from the belly takes you from that stress-induced, shallow chested breathing to a more relaxed and restful state. It also helps you refocus your mind and feel a sense of control over negative thinking.

 

How to Belly Breathe…

  1. Find a quiet place where you can sit or lie down comfortably (on a chair, sitting cross-legged, or lying on your back).
    • If sitting, bend your knees while keeping your head, neck, and shoulders relaxed.
    • If lying down, feel free to place a pillow under your head and one under your knees for comfort.
  1. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other between the bottom rib and belly button.
  2. Breathe in through the nose and feel your belly rise as the air fills your lungs fully. The movement should be smooth and not forced. When the breath makes it to the bottom of your lungs, the belly will rise all by itself. The hand on your upper chest won’t move much at all.
  3. Allow your belly to relax as you exhale slowly through nose or mouth.

Belly breathing can feel a bit awkward at first because we’re so accustomed to shallow breathing in the upper chest. Remember that your diaphragm is a muscle, and with a little bit of work every day you can build up its strength over time.

We recommended that you start with two to three brief sequences of belly breathing each day and gradually build your practice up to 5 or 10 minutes, one to four times each day. Consult your doctor before tying this exercise if you have lung conditions, like asthma or COPD, and stop if you begin to feel lightheaded.

Benefits of Belly Breathing…

  • Creates feelings of calm and of being in control of the emotions
  • Helps you view your thinking as if you were a neutral observer
  • Lowers your heart rate and blood pressure
  • Helps you cope with the symptoms of anxiety, depression, PTSD, and insomnia
  • Improves your core muscle stability and diaphragm strength
  • Improves your body’s ability to tolerate intense exercise
  • Helps you relax, decreasing the harmful effects of the stress hormone cortisol on your body

We are living through an extraordinarily stressful time. Give belly breathing a try and contact us if you’d like more guidance on dealing with anxiety or coping with stress. We all need to focus more on that these days.