Most of us are dealing with some kind of anxiety or apprehension very often or occasionally. There are natural ways to reduce stress, such as deep breathing and reducing stimulants. For example, if you are prone to stage fright, reduce your intake of coffee, tea, alcohol, tobacco and other stimulants a few days before the event. Having a proper and balanced diet is also very beneficial, and remember to reduce sugar intake as much a s possible to limit sudden hyper and hypoglycemia.
When you start to feel anxious or overly stressed, people around you have probably advised you to take a big breath. This is also called “deep breathing”, and there is an actual benefit to it.
When breathing, many of us only engage the top part of the lungs. This “shallow” breathing does not fill up the lungs completely.
Breathing has three major functions
- Bringing in O2
- Eliminating CO2
- Eliminating toxins
Therefore if you do not breathe properly you do not get a sufficient amount of O2. And you do not eliminate by-products well enough.
Breathing also has an action on the nervous system
There is a part of our nervous system that regulates our involuntary functions. (Luckily for us, digestion, breathing, heartbeat, etc. happen without us having to think about it.) This is our autonomic (involuntary) nervous system (ANS). The other one, our somatic (voluntary) nervous system (SNS), commends the skeletal muscles.
Some functions are part unconscious and part voluntary, such as breathing. The ANS is also divided into the Parasympathetic NS (in charge of rest and digestive activities) and the Sympathetic NS (involved mainly in the fight-or-flight situation). The later allows the body to function under stress and is responsible for increasing the heart rate, stimulating sweating, etc.)
When we are under stress, it stimulates our Sympathetic NS and it leads to an increased heart rate, perspiration and tensed muscles. On the contrary, deep breathing, especially abdominal/diaphragmatic breathing, stimulates the Parasympathetic nervous system, and leads to relaxation.
Deep breathing and relaxation
It is good to take some full deep breaths from time to time during your day, as a habit. Deep breathing also massages the internal organs which is beneficial. This is one of the reasons why Yoga and martial arts focus so much on breathing. To learn the deep breathing technique, practice engaging the diaphragm. To see if you do it correctly, watch your stomach. It should expand when you inhale and flatten when you exhale. Your shoulders should not move up and down. Try this especially when you feel anxious, nervous or stressed. Take several deep breaths until you feel calmer and less agitated. Practice deep breathing daily, and you will soon have a great tool to face challenging situations and keep your focus.