Why We Need to Breathe Deeper
While the fight or flight response served early humans well, it can be difficult to manage in today’s modern world where everything from work to traffic can stimulate a stress response. Managing it might be simpler than you think.
When your body is preparing for conflict or danger, it triggers what’s known as a “fight or flight” response. This reaction to potential threats developed over millennia, and while essential, our modern brains aren’t able to decipher what might be a legitimate threat versus day-to-day stress. The result: everything from relationship turbulence to long lines at the grocery store can trigger a stress response. Over time, this can cause wear and tear on the body, impacting blood pressure, immune health, and causing feelings of sadness and anxiousness.1
Oddly enough, something so seemingly effortless—that we tend to overlook—can make or break how the body manages a fight-flight response: your breath. Do you ever notice how shallow your breathing becomes when working on a stressful task or receiving difficult news? The lack of oxygen to your lungs can exacerbate the stress you’re already experiencing, and trigger a cascade of physiological responses.
According to Harvard Health, “this is because shallow breathing limits the diaphragm's range of motion. The lowest part of the lungs doesn't get a full share of oxygenated air. That can make you feel short of breath and anxious. Deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, it can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure.”2
Since we can’t avoid the ups and downs of life, we have to find a way to gracefully navigate what the brain is perceiving as an obstacle. One of the best—and simplest ways—to do this is through breathwork.
Breathwork takes many forms, from yoga to meditation and beyond. However, there’s no need to feel overwhelmed or intimidated, breathwork can also just be intentional breathing. Here’s how you can get started…
Set aside some time. Whether it’s five minutes or twenty, set aside time in your day and limit surrounding distractions.
Get comfy. Find a quiet place where you can either sit or lie down comfortably.
Try box breathing. Also called square breathing, box breathing is a technique that can help you effectively and formulaically slow down your breath. Start by breathing in steadily through your nose, feeling the air gradually fill your chest, lower lungs, and belly. Notice the fullness and expansion throughout your body. Once at its peak, release your breath slowly out your nose.
Now begin inhaling to a count of four and hold for a count of four at the top of your breath. Exhale to a count of four and hold for a count of four at the bottom of your exhale. Repeat this pattern at least three times or set aside five minutes for a deeper practice.
Once you integrate breathwork into your routine, you can expect to feel the benefits. Deep belly breathing can help protect your body from the harmful effects of constant stress responses. In fact, studies show that the wear and tear of repeated fight-flight responses could be a “silent killer.” Keep your body and mind strong with the power of your breath.
1 Zaccaro, A., Piarulli, A., Laurino, M., Garbella, E., Menicucci, D., Neri, B., & Gemignani, A. (2018, September 7). How breath-control can change your life: A systematic review on psycho-physiological correlates of slow breathing. Frontiers in human neuroscience. Retrieved July 19, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6137615/
2 Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response. Harvard Health. (2020, July 6). Retrieved July 19, 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response