Belly 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.
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.
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.