You might think breathing is second nature, right? You’re doing it right now as you are reading this. But did you know that there are different kinds of breathing and that what is called deep breathing can have important health benefits? Read on to learn just three of the most important reasons you should add deep breathing to your daily routine.
Manage Anxiety and Depression
Deep breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is also known as the “rest and digest” system. The job of the parasympathetic nervous system is to conserve energy that is then used for bodily functions like digestion and urination. Deep breathing helps to activate the vagus nerve which oversees mood, digestion, and even heart rate.
Improve Focus and Reduce Stress
Taking a minute to check in with yourself, especially in times of stress or when you feel like you can’t focus, is a great way to incorporate deep breathing. Here’s how to stop and take just a few minutes to incorporate deep breathing.
Your diaphragm is the small muscle just below your lungs. If you breathe correctly, it contracts and moves downward so your lungs expand to take in fresh air. When you exhale, the opposite occurs, and your diaphragm relaxes and slides further up your chest cavity.
First, put one hand over your heart and one hand on your stomach. Breathe in through your nose, allowing the air to fill your stomach. Notice how the hand on your stomach moves while the hand on your heart doesn’t. Draw your navel toward your spine as you exhale. If it helps, pretend you are blowing out the candles on your birthday cake. Notice how the hand on your stomach slides back to its original position. Repeat these steps three to five times to start paying particular attention to how you feel after each breath.
This process will improve your focus and lower your stress levels the more you incorporate it into your day. Maybe set an alarm on your phone to stop once in the morning, once during lunch and once in the evening to practice deep breathing.
If you find yourself in high stress situations and suffering from anxiety or depression, then you probably aren’t sleeping very well either. Use these steps to slow yourself down before bed to clear your mind and slow your heart rate. Keep a journal once you begin deep breathing regularly and you may notice that the more you do it the better you find yourself sleeping.
And just like almost everything in life, there is an app for that! There are several apps available to help you manage your breathing. If you own an Apple Watch, you already have access to a breathing app, perfectly named Breathe. The app will check in with you, prompting you to take one-minute breathing breaks and guiding you when to exhale and inhale. There are other apps available so a quick search in your app store will help you find the one that is right for you. I use the free Oak app which has several breathing exercises and guided meditations. The “Deep Calm” using the 4-7-8 breathing method is one of my favorites and has been called “a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system”.
The best part about incorporating deep breathing into your daily routine is that you can do it anywhere and nobody even realizes that’s what you are doing. When you know you are going to head into a situation that is stressful or gives you anxiety, practice deep breathing ahead of time and during the event.
Deep breathing is a fantastic tool for your mental health toolbox so take the time to incorporate it into your daily routine and pay attention to how you feel before and after. Adjust how often and what time of day you might practice deep breathing and watch your body and your mind adapt to that increase in oxygen throughout the day.