We all endeavor to carry a positive life view where stress, emotional anxieties, and fears don’t dictate our mental health. While we know breathing is an instinctual activity for the sake of oxygenation, breathing also serves as an indicator and regulator of our emotional well-being. How we breathe, and what breathing exercises we engage in, determine much of how our body manages emotional and mental health.
How many times have you been in a stressful situation, sat down, and sighed a deep breath? It’s the body’s way of regulating our internal physiological processes. By freeing our breath, we enable our bodies to stop the build up of stress, and we allow ourselves to physiologically decompress. By maintaining a focus on our breathing patterns, we retain a degree of focus and concentration on ourselves – and avoid the anxiety from external people, places, and things which evoke emotional responses. The concept of emotional intelligence is predicated on exactly this state of being: the union between our physiological and emotional selves.
Breathing to Manage Anxiety
Anxiety is a level of heightened awareness characterized by stress, worry, and unease, and causes detrimental physiological responses such as increased and erratic blood pressure and heart rates. In addition, cortisol released from the adrenal glands in elevated doses can trigger depressive and anxiety disorders.
Proper breathing is perhaps the most important tool we must ensure that we not only attain that optimal state – and mitigate anxiety – but maintain it throughout anxiety-filled experiences. The rewards of good physiological health are the result of proper regular breathing, good breathing exercises, and daily periods of meditative breathing.
What do these breathing exercises look like, which teach us proper daily breathing? Put simply, we inhale through the diaphragm – in the middle of our torso – and belly instead of our chest. In simple steps:
- Sitting upright with your back firm against a chair, and feet flat on the ground, settle your shoulders, and relax your body.
- Place your left hand on your abdomen to measure the contraction of your diaphragm with each inhalation and exhalation. Look to exhale completely, allowing your lungs to collapse smoothly, and without force or strain. As you do so, feel your hand fall inwards on your abdomen. Then as you inhale again, control the air coming into your lungs smoothly and evenly, feeling your hand rise on your diaphragm as your lungs fill with air.
- Breathing abdominally, relax into a natural breathing pattern. Maintain the same pace but allow your body to learn this rhythm. To do so, your mental state begins to merely monitor the process rather than control it. Maintain focus on the pattern, the pressure, temperature, and feeling of the air as it enters and leaves the body.
Try this for 5 minutes each day, and progress to 20 or more minutes. It is part of our nature for thoughts to enter our mind while focusing on breathing. This isn’t something to be frustrated by. Instead, simply release the thoughts and avoid holding onto them; allow them to leave your consciousness as easily as they entered.