There are many great resources available and an increased focus on the topic of our personal wellness which is very positive. We have acclimated to the new ways we are working, supporting and keeping our families healthy and safe, getting a handle on anxiety and stress and developed new routines to cope with what many are referring to a “new normal” as we navigate our lives through a worldwide health crisis.
As modern humans, we are not particularly good at breathing properly – the most basic act of being alive. We tend to breathe through our mouth and often too rapidly. When we think of the word “apnea” which is a temporary cessation of breathing, we associate it with a common medical condition that occurs during sleep. However, you may be surprised to hear there is a researched and documented phenomenon called “e-mail apnea” where device users, who are likely multi-tasking, breathe irregularly and shallowly and can even hold their breath for half a minute or more while tending to their devices.
Breathing sets off a cascade of physical changes in the body that promote either stress or relaxation. Improper breathing can contribute to our anxiety or other mental health problems. Rapid breathing can contribute to our “flight or fight” human response which raises stress and tension while slow, deep breathing has the opposite effect and activates an anti-stress response which we call the parasympathetic response or “rest and digest”. Researchers and medical professionals are exploring ways we can use both ancient techniques as well as new ones to tap into the potential of our breath to find calmness and peace.
For those struggling with anxiety a common therapy is to redirect negative thoughts to disrupt the pattern of anxiety. Breathing techniques, however, present a different approach that skips over the thoughts in the mind and impacts the body directly. Breathing, either slow or fast in a rhythm or through your nose instead of your mouth, can often provide immediate relief. Even focusing on your breathing in moments of acute stress, and making it a daily habit, can be impactful.
Here are a few examples of trusted breathing techniques worth considering:
1) Diaphragmatic breathing (belly breathing) – breathing deeply into the abdomen rather than taking shallow breaths into the chest
2) Fast inhaling (2 seconds) with slow exhaling (8 seconds) – is proven to relieve both the physical and mental experience of anxiety – useful to address individual moments of anxiety and stress
3) Nadi Sodhan - alternate nostril breathing – concentrating on breathing in and out alternating between each individual nostril – practicing for ten minutes per day has been shown to be highly effective in reducing anxiety
4) Tummo – a yogic breathing practice of forceful or gentle breathing, abdominal contractions during breath-holding and visualization – initially raises a body’s stress slightly but then offers an even deeper relaxation afterward
5) Ujayyi – deep breathing with a narrowed throat, creating an ocean-like sound, often practiced with yoga
6) Bhastrika – “bellows breath”, inhaling and exhaling forcefully
7) Boxed breathing – inhale for four seconds, hold for four, and repeat
Numerous studies have shown that taking the time to develop a structured breathing practice that you commit to daily can have a positive impact in your overall mental health, reducing anxiety and stress and instilling calmness. Participants in various studies showed a reduction in anxiety, increase in confidence and mindfulness and general overall improved wellness. You will likely notice improvement in just a few short weeks and continuing with the practice as part of a daily habit will have a positive lifelong impact.
At the very least, try to pay attention to your breathing whenever you can and breathe through your nose instead of your mouth for more control. With the high level of anxiety many of us are feeling right now we can certainly benefit by having more awareness of our bodies and find ways to integrate positive breathing habits into our daily routines, especially when we are reading e-mails.
Visit these resources for additional information and ideas:
Breath – The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor https://www.mrjamesnestor.com/breath
Eight Breathing Exercises for Anxiety - https://www.healthline.com/health/breathing-exercises-for-anxiety
Breathing Technics for Stress Relief - https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/stress-relief-breathing-techniques#1
Breathing Technics for Better Health - https://www.nm.org/healthbeat/healthy-tips/4-breathing-techniques-for-better-health