You know how people say you’re supposed to take deep breaths when you’re stressed? How you take those breaths is just as important. And if you’re only breathing in and out through your chest, you’re not gaining the full benefits of a cleansing breath.
To go deeper, you need to breathe from the diaphragm. And in this quick guide, we’re going to show you how.
Why isn’t breathing from the chest as cleansing?
When we exercise, our bodies need more oxygen as we exert ourselves, which is why we take quicker, deeper breaths. But when we are stressed, our bodies don’t need that same level of oxygen. So when we take big, shallow breaths during an anxiety-inducing situation, we are releasing a surprising stabilizer our organs need to regulate proper breathing: carbon dioxide.
Yes, really! Carbon dioxide plays a key role in ensuring oxygen gets to where it needs to go in your body. And when you take in too much oxygen from stressful breathing, you are releasing the carbon dioxide needed to regulate oxygen dispersion. In other words, your body will begin to show symptoms of low oxygen, such as light-headedness, pounding heartbeat, tingling fingertips and nausea: all hallmark symptoms of anxiety. So, the very symptoms you were trying to calm down with those deep breaths may continue or grow worse.
So, what is the solution? Breathing low and slow with a technique called diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing.
What is diaphragmatic breathing?
To flashback to high school biology class, the diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle at the base of your lungs. When you breathe in, your diaphragm tightens and moves downward. This creates more space in your chest and allows your lungs to expand. Upon exhale, the diaphragm relaxes.
This type of breathing allows for a full oxygen exchange and offers the low and slow type of breath that slows the heartbeat and stabilizes blood pressure. While the stresses of everyday life can shift us to shallower, less effective chest breathing, it is easy to practice diaphragmatic breathing for when you need it most.
How do you take a breath from the diaphragm?
Harvard Health offers some great tips on how to practice diaphragmatic breathing. To start:
- Lay on your back or in a chair with your knees bent and shoulders relaxed.
- Place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your stomach just below your ribcage.
- Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose, allowing the air to travel toward your belly. You’ll know you’re doing it right when the hand on your chest remains still and the one on your stomach rises.
- Exhale slowly through pursed lips, allowing your abdominal muscles to tighten and collapse. The hand on your stomach should be still once more.
It may feel strange to breathe this way at first, but humans are designed to be belly breathers. With a little practice, you’ll be able to pull this tool out for stressful moments and truly feel a positive difference.
The bottom line: Deep breaths from the diaphragm can help during stressful situations. It may take some practice, but breathing this way will help stabilize your body by lowering blood pressure and slowing down your heart rate.