How Does Breathing Affect Stress Response?

Lessons in Wellness

for Health Coaches

I’ve been to a lot of doctor appointments and tests with my husband recently and I think that there are very few patients who ask as many questions as he does.  They are smart questions and we should probably all ask that many questions, but you can tell that we leave every office with the entire staff ready for a vacation.

Almost all of our courses include breathing practice as a way to reduce stress.  I told Gary to practice breathing daily, and of course, he wanted to know how it works.  In case you have curious clients, I’m sharing what I shared with him.


Breathing and Stress Connection

Breathing exercises can have a profound effect on stress levels. This is due to the direct connection between the respiratory system and the nervous system, specifically, the autonomic nervous system, which regulates functions such as heart rate, digestion, and — of course — respiration.

When you’re stressed or anxious, your body can go into “fight or flight” mode, which the sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system governs. This response is characterized by rapid, shallow breathing, increased heart rate, and heightened alertness.

Breathing exercises help stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of the autonomic nervous system responsible for calming the body down, or the “rest and digest” state. Deep, slow, and controlled breathing can signal to the brain that it’s okay to relax, slowing the heart rate, reducing blood pressure, and promoting a feeling of calm and relaxation.

Breathing techniques like diaphragmatic breathing, 4-7-8 breathing, and box breathing can be particularly effective in reducing stress. Regularly practicing these breathing techniques can even improve your overall stress response.

On a physiological level, slower breathing can also increase the level of carbon dioxide in the blood, which can help promote a sense of calm and reduce anxiety. Furthermore, the act of focusing on your breath can also have a meditative effect, helping to quiet the mind and reduce stress.

Remember, while breathing exercises are a powerful tool for stress management, they’re just one piece of the puzzle. A balanced diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and a strong support network can also be crucial in managing stress.

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Further Reading

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