How many times have you heard that phrase? The moment an environment becomes stressful, or voices become raised, there is usually someone who says “Let’s all calm down and take a deep breath”.
It has to be one of the most annoying utterances to hear when things get a little heated. However, did you know that the phrase is actually true? Did you know that taking a deep breath is actually one of the best ways to calm down and relax?
As a young person (ish) who deals with anxiety and over-thinking on a regular basis, I have been on the hunt to develop a ‘toolbox’ of techniques to help me handle anxiety better, especially when having big dreams means I can’t let anxiety always get the better of me. This interest in wellbeing has led me to yoga and into the pages of Dr Navaz Habib’s ‘Activate Your Vagus nerve’.
Firstly, let’s start with the actual practice of breathing. I hear you, we breathe on average 22,000 times a day. We all know how to breathe. However, have you ever wondered why when you try and breathe to calm down, nothing happens? Most humans have developed breathing through accessory muscles, which in short, is breathing from our chest.
Yes, this allows air to flow in and out of our bodies, and the exchange of oxygen and cardon-dioxide to happen, however, we are triggering the wrong state of being through our Vagus nerve, this being the ‘fight-or-flight’ state. In the ‘fight-or-flight’ state of breathing, we trigger the release of adrenaline, which in turn increases our blood pressure, makes us sweat, directs blood away from our stomach (hence the stomach churning and lack of appetite) and to our muscles in our legs and arms, and even causes our body to shake. Our bodies believe that we are under threat and either need to fight with all our strength, or run away as fast as we can. This truly is an amazing function and was incredibly useful when we were cavemen and women. However, when this is in response to a not-so-friendly email, or a tight deadline looming around the corner, it’s not the most useful body function.
In biological terms, diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which involves sending signals to our brain through our Vagus nerve, to say that everything is fine, we are not under threat and that we can relax. On the flip side, when we are in the ‘fight-or-flight’ state, our breathing is short, quick and most likely is coming from your chest, which signals to our brain through our Vagus Nerve that we need to prepare ourselves for a threat, triggering the Sympathetic Nervous System.
Fun thought: have you ever wondered why an angry person gets even more angry and eventually lashes out? They are potentially breathing rapidly from their chest, receiving high levels of adrenaline from being in the ‘fight-or-flight’ state, with blood pumping around their body, and are ‘seeing red’.
In Yoga, a huge emphasis is placed on breathing correctly — every position is held through breaths, rather than time. As I heard Dr Navaz recently say in Roxie Nafousi’s ‘The Moment That Made Me’ podcast, Yoga helps to encourage and train our bodies to use diaphragmatic breathing — when you are upside down with your right leg raised in the air, your body is much more grateful for a deep belly breathe, rather than a quick intake from your chest. This triggers The Parasympathetic Nervous System, which helps to create a sense of ‘calm’. No wonder yoga is said to be good for anxiety and stress!
Now that we have run through how breathing should be correctly carried out, let’s look at a breathing technique that can help with relaxation. In the recent weeks, I have learnt ‘box breathing’. This breathing techniques helps to slow any racing thoughts, bring your attention back to the present moment, as well as trigger the ‘rest-and-digest’ state. It is simply:
Breathe in from your stomach for four counts
Hold for four counts
Breathe out from your stomach for four counts
Hold for four counts
Once you repeat this a number of times, a comforting sense of calm overtakes your body, your heart rate slows, your stomach stops churning, and you stop sweating. Whilst practicing this technique, place one hand on your stomach, to check that your diaphragm is moving outwards and inwards. Believe me, I have tried this a number of times over the past weeks, and it works. This is also really great to do before going to sleep!
The next time you hear a friend, family member of colleague say “let’s all calm down and take a deep breath”… listen to them and do all you can to encourage others around you to pause, breathe in from their stomach and out from their stomach. It’s a quick, easy and FREE method to find calm.
Interested in learning more about wellbeing or simply want some pretty wellbeing content to scroll through? Head over to @jrosewellbeing. I can’t wait to see you over there!