Stress and how you breathe

During these times of high anxiety the body is flooded with stress hormones that have a major impact on how you breathe, exacerbating problems for people with pre-existing respiratory and other health conditions. The good news is that you can do something about it by changing the way you breathe.

Breathing through the nose

Inhaling and exhaling naturally through the nose is what you should be doing. As you inhale the nose warms and moisturizes the air. Your nose releases nitric oxide which widens the blood vessels allowing for better transportation of oxygen to vital organs. Your breathing will be deeper and slower increasing the volume of your lungs and diaphragm.

Stress is a survival mechanism that we require to function properly. Short periods of stress can help sharp-focus the mind to accomplish an important task. It enabled our ancestors to scamper to safety up the next tree when faced by a predator. Stress hormones such as adrenalin or cortisol are essential tools, enabling for example the driver of a car to slam on the brakes if a deer runs across the road.

Breathing and stress

The hypothalamus in the brain sets off the alarm in a dangerous situation. Nerves and hormones signal the adrenal glands near the kidneys to release hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These cause the muscular system to tense up, raises the blood pressure, enabling that quick burst of energy to address an emergency situation. As we use more body energy our inhaling and exhaling breaths come in short bursts from the mouth, circulating in the upper throat and chest area. After the threat has disappeared the body normally calms down with the cortisol levels dropping as we go into relax mode.

The problem in our modern world is that our stress is mainly triggered by thousands of thoughts circulating on events of the past or future. The body is in a constant state of alert. The sprint and recovery cycle is out of balance. A constant high level of cortisol will eventually break down the body’s natural defense systems, weaken the cardiovascular system, and impair brain and memory function. We are constantly “stressed-out”, not breathing properly and thus not getting enough sleep.

Our ancestors never had the problem of chronic stress. Scientists, studying the shapes of jaws and mouth cavities from ancient skulls, determined that they probably spent most of their lives in relaxed breathing through the nose. However, probably from dietary and other effects our mouths have changed dramatically in less than 200 years. Our heads have become more shallow, vertically oriented, with smaller teeth and a tongue extending well into the neck. This contributes to a smaller and narrower airway.

What you can do to change your breathing patterns?

Conscious and focused deep breathing through the nose can instantly bring you from a state of high tension into a relaxed state of mind.

  • Sit upright holding one hand on your lower belly and the other in the heart area.
  • At the count of one inhale and exhale through your nose.
  • Continue until the count of twelve then switch your hands
  • Continue until the count of 24
  • Close by placing both your hands on your belly

Nourishing your mind and body during times of crisis cannot be over-emphasized:

  • Avoid the consumption of negative news media
  • Surround yourself with positive-minded humorous people
  • Avoid white sugar and processed foods as much as possible

Low impact body exercises such as yoga, tai chi, qi gong and deep walking in nature will do wonders in reducing stress hormones in the body. When you focus on nasal breathing your body posture will also improve naturally.

So what about high-impact exercise such as jogging and cycling? The bottom line here is that you will probably be forced to take big inhaling breaths through your mouth to get more oxygen. This will decrease carbon dioxide in your blood levels inhibiting the body’s ability to release oxygen into your cells. The point here is to slow down again so that you can breathe naturally through the nose.  

Reino Gevers – Author – Mentor – Speaker

One more thing…

If you would like to learn more about these and other topics, check out my books and online video courses in my store or go to linktr.ee/redfishsword

1 Comment

Filed under mental health, mental-health

One response to “Stress and how you breathe

  1. Pingback: Happiness and the power of choice | ReinosBlog

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