Updated: May 18
Breathing is the crucial mechanism all of us humans rely on to live our lives. Breathing converts oxygen to the bloodstream and pumps the body with vital molecules while simultaneously getting rid of waste by expelling carbon dioxide. Most of this happens literally right under our noses, and it happens so often that we quickly stop taking notice of it unless it’s explicitly being pointed out.
Of course, this mechanism of breathing is not always as simple as it sounds. For many, increased stimulation from screens and the rush of modern life have formed a dangerous habit of shallow and sharp breathing patterns that increase anxiety and compromise our health.
Thankfully, there are ways to bring your breathing back to a more natural, deeper state, and that’s by making a focused effort to control and deepen your breathing mechanism.
Today’s blog will briefly explore the relationship between deeper breathing and its positive effects on managing and relieving excess stress and anxiety symptoms on the body.
In many neuroscientific circles, there is growing confidence in the idea that our bodies and how they operate have a critical effect on the mind and our emotional well-being. This goes both ways as well, with our emotions having a far more adverse impact on the operation of our bodies as well. For example, simple mechanisms, such as smiling, can significantly affect a person’s outlook if done often enough, with most people reporting being happier as a result of regularly smiling.
A similar effect occurs when we engage in deep, or diaphragmatic, breathing. Taking long, slow breaths that focus on full inhales and exhales, such as when meditating or mindfulness exercises, can significantly reduce anxiety and stress if done consistently and regularly.
Very Nervous Systems
Much of the effect of effective deep breathing comes down to the impact that diaphragmatic breathing has on the nervous system. Specifically, diaphragmatic breathing helps to stimulate the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve that carries information signals from the body to the brain and is also linked to the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the body’s functions when in a state of rest. This runs counter to the sympathetic nervous system, which manages the body’s functions when in a state of stress.
When stimulated, the vagus nerve engages the parasympathetic nervous system and puts your body into a state of relaxation, lowering your heart rate and allowing you to feel calm.
When diaphragmatic breathing is practiced regularly by maintaining a regular habit of yoga, meditation, or mindfulness exercises, the repeated stimulation of the vagus nerve can lead to a shift in the body to favor the regularly engaged parasympathetic over the sympathetic nervous system.
This shift in focus to the parasympathetic nervous system allows your body to more easily access systems designed to calm the body and mind, reducing anxiety and feelings of stress more effectively over time.
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.