Here is an exercise we can all do, any place, any time. It will take you no more than one minute – you can even do it as you’re reading this – and no matter how you feel beforehand, you will feel calmer afterwards.
1. Breathe out completely.
2. Take in a deep breath from your belly. As you breathe in, count slowly to five.
3. Hold the breath for a count of one.
4. Breathe out slowly for another count of five.
5. Repeat four more times – that’s five breaths in total.
Diaphragmatic breathing, as above, activates our parasympathetic nervous system. It acts in contrast to the sympathetic nervous system, characterised by rapid, shallow, upper-chest breathing. We tend to breathe like this when we’re full of anxiety, in that fight-or-flight mode we need in moments of real danger.
You can find out more here on the science behind these two divisions in our autonomic nervous system, but in short, the two systems cannot work together.
Research (such as in 2013 by the University of California, and in 2005 by the University of Miami) shows that when we produce our stress response time and time again to non-life threatening situations, our long term body and brain health suffers.
So if you can remember to utilise your diaphragmatic breathing, and activate your calm response, you’ll not only relax and slow down when you feel stressed or under pressure, you’ll also be doing your long-term health the world of good.
Take care, and happy breathing.