Our breathing patterns are directly related to our nervous system. Fast breathing stimulates the sympathetic system (fight or flight) and can induce or make anxiety worse. Slow breathing stimulates the parasympathetic system (rest and digest). The relaxation and reduction of anxiety occurs with slow and controlled exhalation.
Breathing and Anxiety
Medical staffs use interventions such as fans and pursed-lip breathing to assist patients who are short of breath. These techniques can also assist with anxiety. Sitting in front of an open window, driving with the windows down (when no in traffic, or course) and breathing exercises could help with symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, improve pain and anxiety, increase saliva (which can improve digestion), and significantly lower levels of at least three cytokines that are associated with inflammation and stress.
Simply watching the breath can calm breathing and induce relaxation and pain relief. Slow breathing relaxes the chest muscles and body, promotes abdominal breathing and stronger diaphragmatic movements, which stimulates the vagal nerve that calms the body.
One easy to do anywhere exercise:
- Inhale as deeply and you can, at that point inhale a short small quick breath
- Hold for 4 counts
- Exhale as slowly as possible. Relaxation is reached with slow exhalation.
- Complete 3 or more times
This technique can be used just before bed to induce relaxation and sleep, with middle-of-the-night awakening to assist with getting back to sleep, just prior to meals (to improved digestion and prevent heartburn), with episodes of anxiety and pain, even to assist with urinary flow. There are many more exercises that can be found on YouTube, yoga, and meditation classes.