How Breathing Can be the Key to Emotional Regulation
Updated: May 18
One of the more challenging aspects of daily life is regulating your emotions. Scientists and philosophers from modern-day to as far back as the classical age have wrestled with the idea of how emotional responses affect us.
Marcus Aurelius, famed roman Emperor and stoic, regularly contemplated the role emotions play in our lives, devoting much of his memoir, Meditations, on the topic: “The happiness and unhappiness of the rational, social animal depends not on what he feels but on what he does; just as his virtue and vice consist not in feeling but in doing.” - Marcus Aurelius
For the stoics, doing something about their situation while regulating their emotional responses was considered the ultimate expression of stoicism. Of course, many of the stoics had the advantage of living in a time where the trappings of daily life were much simpler, making their approach more straightforward.
Thankfully, we have something that classical Stoics didn’t, and that's a good few thousand years of breathing techniques to lean on. So keep reading, and learn how you can use your breathing as a tool to maintain peak emotional regulation.
All About Control
One of the more essential pieces of info to keep in mind when trying to regulate your emotions is the idea of control. While there are many events in your life that you don’t have control over, the one thing you consistently have control over is your emotional response to those events. It’s a key component of regulatory breathing techniques, mindfulness ethos, and the stoic philosophy - so it’s a pretty crucial tidbit to remember.
Often we try to suppress or avoid our emotions. However, avoidance is usually never a solution to certain problems. Instead, identifying and managing your emotional responses should be the key priority. The best way to do that is by managing your breathing through conscious control.
So, if you find yourself in a tense situation and your struggling to decide what to do, often the best solution at that moment is to simply breathe.
Why This Works
The reason breathing works for managing emotions comes in the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system controls your fight-or-flight response, while the parasympathetic controls your body's ability to rest. Both systems are advantageous in their own right, though the dominance of one over the other can lead to poor decision-making and a lack of emotional regulation.
When faced with a situation that leads to high emotions, controlled conscious breathing allows you to stimulate the vagus nerve, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This lowers the heart rate and reduces the production of adrenaline in the body, keeping you calm in the process.
Remaining calm is crucial during times of stress. When you’re relaxed and focused, you can assess situations more clearly and efficiently, allowing you the opportunity to make the best decision possible in that moment.
So, the next time you find yourself facing a moment where emotions are running high, take a moment consciously breathe, focusing on your breath as you inhale and slowly exhale. You’ll be surprised by the difference it makes.
For more information regarding how to manage your breathing for a more effective lifestyle, visit our other blogs here at The Exhale to get the latest tips and tricks. For free guided breathing exercises that you can take anywhere, try out the Breathwrk app here.
And remember: Breathe Better, Live Better.