Inspiring Words

Here I am sharing some thoughts from my experiences in my clinical and forensic practice, as well as through my role as a mother of three children, a wife, a daughter, a sister, and a friend.

Deep Breathing – A Simple, Powerful Exercise for Physiological and Emotional Health

Deep Breathing – A Simple, Powerful Exercise for Physiological and Emotional Health

Are you feeling emotionally and physically exhausted? You are not alone. There is a reason for it. Your sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive. Normally, our “fight or flight” response is in reaction to a real or perceived threat that is an event. That event is usually a single short-lived event, or an ongoing experience with varying periods of danger and safety.

What we are experiencing now is different. We are experiencing a heightened sense of real danger, and it is all the time. All. The. Time. No wonder scientists say that this is equivalent to running a half-marathon. When we perceive a threat, our sympathetic nervous system goes into action to protect us. However, when prolonged, it has a negative impact on our physiology and our emotional well-being. It results in:

  • Digestive problems
  • Lowered immune functioning
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased release of the stress hormone cortisol
  • Increased heart rate
  • Sleep problems

The good news is that there are several things you can do to counteract this stress caused by your sympathetic nervous system being in overdrive. One is to invoke your parasympathetic nervous system. It is really cool that we have the power to do this. We have control over our bodies! And the simplest way to do it is, ready for it?  Breathing. Deep breathing.

You may say, “Breathing?! But I already do that! I breathe all day!”

This is a different kind of breathing. Normally, we take shallow breaths that bring air to our chest.  Deep breathing involves intentional effort and focus to bring it deeper, to the belly.  One way to do it is to imagine that you are filling your stomach with air, like a balloon. Rest your hands on your stomach, and you will know when you are getting the air deep into your diaphragm because you will see your stomach rise and fall, not your chest.

Simply get comfortable in a chair, rest your belly, and breathe in, and bring that breath in deep. Then exhale. That’s it! Do this for as long as you like. Aim for 2 minutes minimum.

If you find your mind wanders, you may wish to follow a guided meditation while deep breathing. Here are some information and instructional videos. Everyone is different. Listen, and repeat the one that works for you. You can simply go to Youtube and search for “deep breathing exercises”. Here are two:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wemm-i6XHr8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQjGqtH-2YI

Or download the app Insight Timer, and in the search bar, put in “deep breathing”.

This is a really effective preventative exercise. When you do it on a regular basis, you are reducing stress and inducing the “relaxation response” – a term coined by Herb Benson, MD in the 60s and 70s. If you’re interested in learning more, I suggest reading The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson. Doing deep breathing on a regular basis helps to lower stress and anxiety, improve immune functioning, and increase relaxation.

In addition, when you do it on a regular basis, you are familiar with it and comfortable, so that when you are feeling stressed and anxious, it can be something you quickly employ to help prevent anxiety from spiraling out of control or into a panic attack.

Both are great reasons for making time daily for simple breathing exercises!

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