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Just breathe...

Whilst we are cooped up at home, it's normal to feel frustrated, sad, angry or anxious. Our breathing pattern changes throughout the day depending on our emotions and activity; from holding our breath in fear, panting whilst exercising or sighing with relief. The way we breathe is a key indicator of our stress levels. The good news... our breathing is both voluntary and involuntary. Meaning, by being mindful of our breath, we can manage the way stressful situations affect us. Let's start by slowing down and taking a couple of minutes to read this brief blog.


what this blog will cover

  • Types of breathing

  • Benefits of abdominal breathing

  • The technique (one of many)

  • Alternative relaxation methods


Types of Breathing

  1. Chest (the shallow breather) - most of us right now,

  2. Abdominal/diaphragmatic (the deep, relaxed breather) - who we want to be


Chest breathing is the 'fight and flight' mode that mostly occurs when exercising or when exposed to heightened levels of stress. You will notice your upper chest rising and falling as you breathe. Over time, this style tends to dominate the majority of people's breathing patterns each day. Rapid chest breathing can become a cause of anxiety, causing shortness of breath, dizziness, visual disturbances and more.


Abdominal breathing is the 'relax and restore' or 'rest and digest' style. Abdominal breathing is the most efficient way to get air into our lungs. It is an integral part of our bodies restorative processes during sleep, digestion and generally resting.

benefits of abdominal breathing

  1. Lowers cortisol levels (stress hormone)

  2. Improves sense of well being (feeling calm and relaxed)

  3. Improves lung function (more oxygen in the blood and tissues)

  4. Improves concentration levels

  5. Reduces resting heart rate and blood pressure

  6. Has been shown to ease symptoms of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)

  7. Can reduce chronic pain

  8. Improves sleep quality

The technique

It takes practice and can feel odd at first, but do persevere - the benefits are worth it.

  1. Start by sitting or laying down

  2. Place one hand on your chest and the other just below your ribs, on your stomach.

  3. Slowly breathe in, pushing your stomach out into your hand. Breathe out by letting your stomach fall. The hand on your chest should not move much. If you can't stop your chest from moving - you're the perfect candidate for this exercise!

  4. Repeat this process for a few minutes. Try to focus on the rise and fall of your tummy and the flow of air into and out of your lungs.

  5. Try applying this technique several times throughout the day over the coming weeks, it will soon become a habit (muscle memory) and you may find you feel more relaxed in general.


Alternative relaxation methods

There is always more than one way to do something, you just need to find what suits you. Here is a list of some alternative stress management tools. I will cover these separately in due course.

  1. Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)

  2. Guided imagery

  3. Mindfulness meditation (body scan, yoga, t'ai chi, qi gong)

  4. Physical exercise

  5. Nutrition

  6. Counseling

  7. Cognitive restructuring training.


If you are struggling to adapt to isolation or need advice for an injury, please do get in touch. I'm here to help.


Take care and keep safe.


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references

  1. Papageorgiou F, Varvogli L, Oikonomidi T, Chrousos GP, Darviri C. An 8-week stress management program for older women: A pilot randomized controlled trial. Psychology. 2016;7(06):829.

  2. Ma X, Yue ZQ, Gong ZQ, Zhang H, Duan NY, Shi YT, Wei GX, Li YF. The effect of diaphragmatic breathing on attention, negative affect and stress in healthy adults. Frontiers in psychology. 2017 Jun 6;8:874.

  3. Perciavalle V, Blandini M, Fecarotta P, Buscemi A, Di Corrado D, Bertolo L, Fichera F, Coco M. The role of deep breathing on stress. Neurological Sciences. 2017 Mar 1;38(3):451-8.

  4. Hopper SI, Murray SL, Ferrara LR, Singleton JK. Effectiveness of diaphragmatic breathing for reducing physiological and psychological stress in adults: a quantitative systematic review. JBI database of systematic reviews and implementation reports. 2019 Sep 1;17(9):1855-76.

  5. Peper E, Mason L, Huey C. Healing irritable bowel syndrome with diaphragmatic breathing. Biofeedback. 2017 Feb;45(4):83-7.

  6. Pandit R, Roychowdhury P. Transient Effect of Slow and Deep Breathing Exercise on Cardiopulmonary Functions. mind. 2020;7:9.




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