Breathing more slowly, gently and deeply helps to calm and relax and can also reduce tension and anxiety and improve concentration and memory. Shallow and fast breathing can contribute to anxiety, muscular tension, panic attacks, headaches, and fatigue.
By practicing slow, deep breathing, your mind will calm down and your body will relax. Diaphragmatic, or, abdominal breathing is one of the easiest ways to produce the relaxation response.
Practice 10 or more minutes to learn the proper technique for deep relaxation, helping to reduce muscle tension and anxiety. Throughout the day, frequently take a few slow, deep breaths or do a couple minutes of diaphragmatic breathing, especially when feeling stressed.
Lie on the floor or sit up straight in a chair and place one hand on the center of your chest and the other on your abdomen, right at the waistline.
Take a few breaths and notice if the hand on your chest or stomach moves more. Chest breathing makes it difficult to breathe slowly and smoothly.
For improved abdominal or belly breathing, relax your shoulders and chest and push your stomach muscles up and out gently and slowly as you inhale, creating a natural vacuum in your lungs for just the right amount of air. Pause. Keep your hand on your stomach if it helps. Gently and slowly relax your stomach muscles in and down as if slowly letting air out of a balloon.
To shift from chest to abdominal breathing, make one or two full exhalations that push out the air from the bottom of your lungs – this creates a vacuum that will pull in a deep, diaphragmatic breath on your next inhalation.
Breathing at 6 breaths per minute is ideal for practice. Simply inhale for 5 seconds, and then exhale for 5 seconds.
Inhale gently and slowly through your nose as if slowly filling a balloon with air. Pause.
Exhale slowly through your mouth, pursing your lips as though blowing through a straw to slow your breathing down. Pause and repeat.
What is Overbreathing? Overbreathing is a behavioral mismatch of the rate and depth of breathing. Breaths can be too fast, deep, and full OR too quick and shallow.
What Happens When I Overbreath?
- Ventilating out too much carbon dioxide
- Lowering blood levels of CO2 (hypocapnia)
- Reduction of O2 and glucose reaching organs and tissues
- Electrolyte imbalances, affecting muscle and brain function
Overbreathing Symptoms are Similar to Panic Attack Symptoms
- Hyperventilation, shallow breaths, chest tightness, increased heart rate; chest (thoracic) breathing results in incomplete ventilation of the lungs
- Can trigger anxiety, headaches, asthma, anger, chronic pain, GI distress, panic attacks, chest discomfort, etc.
What Does Healthy Breathing Do For Me?
- A proper balance of inhaling and exhaling provides an optimal level of CO2 in the blood.
- Releases oxygen to body tissues for gas exchange.
- Promotes nitric oxide (NO) release to blood vessels for vasodilation and glucose release for energy.
Tips for Learning Healthy Breathing
- Use the techniques listed on the other side of this handout
- Make an appointment with Stress Management and Biofeedback Services, or come to Walk-In Hours, to use biofeedback equipment to monitor your breathing and find your optimal breathing rate.
- Use a breathing pacer
- Practice daily!