Frank Salvatore
Health and Lifestyle

How Breathing Affects Anxiety

May 1, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

One of the most common ways to calm one’s nerves is to take a slow, deep breath. This controlled breathing practice is used in relaxation exercises such as yoga and meditation to help people relax. The rate of your breath sends messages to your body that directly affect your mood, your immune system, and your stress levels. New research shows that breathing can also affect your brain activity.

Controlled Breathing and a Calm Mind

A cluster of neurons in the brainstem activates breathing. Researchers have done animal studies to identify the specific neurons that affect breathing. They silenced 175 specific neurons in mice, expecting their breathing to change or even stop.

However, the mice had no changes in their breathing when the neurons were silenced. Although the mice did show increased signs of relaxation.

The researchers noted a change in the primary breathing rhythm generator that regulates the balance between calm and active behaviors.

This created a link between the rate of breathing and the emotional state in mice. This suggests that there is considerable potential for breathing to act as an effective therapy. Controlled breathing is a large part of several ancient traditions, and researchers hope to create a drug that targets the same region of the brain.

Why can you change your breathing rate?

Most bodily processes are involuntary. They happen on their own without your ability to control it. However, with breathing, you can decide when and how deeply to breathe. This is a major clue that having control of your breath may be an important way to improve your health.

While your body does breathe automatically, it is a mixture of an involuntary and a voluntary process. You can change the depth and speed of your breathing and choose to breathe through your nose or mouth. The choice you make leads to physical changes in the body.

Steady breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system, while quick, shallow breathing activates your sympathetic nervous system, which releases cortisol and other stress hormones.

This means that if you can slow down your breathing with deep breaths, the neurons would not signal the arousal center and overactivate the brain. If you calm your breathing, you can also calm your mind.”

Can controlled breathing take the place of antidepressants?

Studies show that controlled breathing may improve various types of health conditions from insomnia and anxiety to PTSD and depression. Researchers have even found that 12 weeks of daily yoga that included controlled breathing was able to improve the symptoms of depression in a similar way to using an antidepressant.

Controlled breathing has also been found to help the body cope with stress and initiate an appropriate balance in the heart’s ability to respond to and recover from sudden stress.

Deep breathing also reduces levels of inflammation, as seen in studies conducted on saliva.

Breathing increases resilience to stress.

Researchers have recently found that deep breathing can positively influence one’s longevity and yoga breathing is possibly beneficial in treating depression, anxiety, and PTSD. If you are able to create stress resilience, deep breathing then enables us to relieve many forms of stress and suffering autonomically.

For example, yoga breathing has been found in cancer patients to improve their sleep disturbances, decrease anxiety, and increase their mental quality of life. The more patients practiced deep breathing, the more significant their improvement in symptoms associated with chemotherapy.

What are the type of controlled breathing?

There are several different ways to control your breathing, from altering breathing from your mouth and nose to changing the depth or speed. Coherent breathing is another option, which consists of breathing at a rate of five total breaths each minute.

The “HE” breath is often used to give the body energy. Here, you inhale then exhale very quickly while saying “ha” out loud.

Sudarshan Kriya is a rhythmic breathing exercise that is used during the practice of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga. This practice ranges from slow, calming breaths to rapid, stimulating breaths.

Beyond relieving stress and anxiety, studies have shown that controlled breathing can play a large role in complementing a healthy lifestyle by improving the status of antioxidants in the body, the immune system, hormonal status, and brain function.

Part of practicing relaxing controlled breathing is to make an effort to breathe through your nose rather than the mouth.

When you stop mouth breathing, you give your tissues, brain, and organs better oxygenation. Everyday stressors and a lack of exercise both increase your breathing.

While many believe that breathing in a large amount of air through your mouth lets you bring more oxygen into your body, the opposite is actually true. Breathing deeply through your mouth tends to make you light-headed due to eliminating too much carbon dioxide from your lungs. This restricts your blood vessels and limits the amount of oxygen that is circulated through your body.

Try this breathing exercise to calm yourself down.

One of the most effective breathing exercises to calm your nerves involves focusing on small breaths through your nose.

Take one small breath in through your nose and let it out. Then, hold your breath for five seconds followed by 10 seconds of normal breathing. Repeat these steps to calm your nerves.

Having the knowledge to use the stress-busting power of breathing is helpful, but you can even take it one step further.

Put one hand on your chest and the other hand on your abdomen. Feel your abdomen move up and down with each breath while keeping your chest still. Breathe in and out through your nose and focus on the air that is entering through your nose and then leaving.

Slowly decrease the amount of air your take in from each breath until your breath becomes very quiet. This will help accumulate carbon dioxide in your blood, which will then signal your brain to relax.

Having the power over your breath is a powerful tool in fighting negative emotions and tense feelings. Use this power to your benefit if you feel like you need to relax and are unable to do so.

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Frank Salvatore