Have you ever noticed how your breathing changes when you’re stressed? That fluttery shallow style of breathing that keeps getting faster and faster the more anxious you feel?
At times of stress, we get a tightening in the muscles that help us breathe. As we get more anxious, these muscles tire causing even more shortness of breath and further anxiety, sometimes ending in feelings of total panic. At this point, our bodies move into survival mode where our reactions speed up and our ability to reason gets bypassed. This means that the best time to learn how to cope with panic, is when we’re not panicking. Through practising what to do in advance we can train our anxious brain to remember what to do in an emergency... Just like with fire drills, the more we practise, the better prepared we are for a real live fire. Breathing exercises can really help to calm us down when we’re feeling anxious. Ideally, we need to find one and practise it while we’re calm so our brain knows exactly what to do in an emergency.
There are a lot of breathing techniques out there that can help calm us down in a stressful situation or simply allow us to relax and find a moment of calm in our busy lives. However, there are so many to choose from it has taken me a while to find one that works for me and that I also feel comfortable recommending to my clients. The technique I have selected is called, ‘resonant breathing’ or, ‘coherent breathing’ (a trademarked term) - this is a technique that I find refreshingly simple to follow. Straightforward, no-frills and something that can be done anywhere, with your eyes open or closed which means it’s totally discreet, nobody needs to know that you’re doing it. Resonant breathing is reported to have powerful psychological and physiological benefits, click here to find out more. In short, resonant breathing helps balance the sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest & digest) nervous systems allowing you to feel calm yet still alert enough to go about your daily business.
It’s a simple concept. Just take calm, even breaths - in through the nose and out through the mouth, at a rate of around 5 breaths per minute which works out to be one breath every 6 seconds. I find the Breathe+ app works a treat, setting the dial to 6s in and 6s out. This means I don’t even need to count, I can just match my breathing to the moving graphics and gentle audio. You can also click here for the official coherence ‘chimes’.
Resonant breathing has been shown to bring about significant health benefits to those suffering from severe mental conditions and it has been used with survivors of earthquakes, tsunamis and other global disasters. Another study has shown that regular use of resonant breathing has brought about a reduction of depressive symptoms in a group of people suffering from severe depression.
What I love most about resonant breathing is its simplicity. You can learn it in minutes and it feels straightforward enough to turn to in a crisis. Personally, I find regular use of resonant breathing helps me to relax and clear my mind of busy thoughts. I also feel confident that with this practise, my brain will know exactly what to do if I ever find myself in an emergency.