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Three Ways Breathing Techniques ACTUALLY work

Updated: Jun 8

You may have heard of breathing techniques before, maybe you’ve already attended some classes and started to discover the calming benefits for yourself, or maybe you’ve just heard the term thrown around on wellness channels, and still don’t feel convinced. Either way, when it comes to techniques, I believe knowledge is power. If you are aware of why something works, it often makes us feel more motivated to try it and more encouraged to stick to it! Read on to discover three key ways breathing techniques really do work.



1. Breathing calms the SNS


When it comes to relaxation, we have two key nervous systems that play a big role: the PNS (Parasympathetic Nervous System) and the SNS (Sympathetic Nervous System). The PNS is responsible for our relaxation responses, also known as the “rest and digest” system. The SNS, however, keeps us alert and ready to respond to potential dangers or changes in our environment.


When we feel anxious, worried or threatened, our body enters “fight or flight”. This is an automatic survival response which primes our bodies to either run away or fight. The SNS is the nervous system that is responsible for our fight or flight response and the physical changes we experience when we feel in danger. You might notice symptoms such as an increased heart rate, rapid breathing, hot flushes and dizziness. These are all orchestrated by the SNS trying to get you warmed up and ready for some kind of physical action.

This can be helpful if we are faced with a genuine physical threat, however a lot of the times our triggers are not physical, but social or emotional threats (e.g.: a big presentation, a fear of failure or embarrassment, or an argument with a loved one). In these cases, we don't have anywhere for this energy to go, and so we're left feeling revved up, jittery and even more anxious than when we started.


The way we breathe sends signals to our nervous systems as to whether we should be alert or in “rest and digest”. Slow, regular breathing activates the PNS, and therefore can be one of the quickest ways to calm ourselves down when we start to feel anxious.


2. Breathing regulates our oxygen levels


As mentioned before, when we are anxious or stressed we enter “fight or flight” mode. One of the symptoms of this can be to breathe quicker than usual, in an attempt to get extra oxygen to our muscles and brain. But as we are not using this up through exercise, we end up just feeling light headed or dizzy from the imbalance of oxygen and carbon dioxide. This symptom can feel uncomfortable and make us panic even more! By relaxing our diaphragms into slow, regular breathing, we are actively balancing the amount of oxygen we inhale, which will reduce those feelings of dizziness and allow our bodies to come back into neutral.


3. Breathing grounds you in the present moment


Have you ever stopped to take track of your thoughts when you're feeling anxious? Chances are that you are thinking about things that happened in the past, or worrying about things that might happen in the future. These are situations or events that we do not have control over, and that lack of control can feel scary and add to our anxiety. The only moment we truly have control over is the present moment, but we forget all about what is going on around us when we get lost in our worried thoughts.

By bringing our attention back to our breathing, we are forcing ourselves to focus on the breath, and therefore the here and now. It brings us out of our minds and into our physical bodies. If we take a moment to do this mindfully, and notice how the breath feels in our chests, how our bodies move as we breathe, or how the air feels coming in through the mouth or nose, then we are further centering our minds and avoiding getting caught in a worry cycle.


For more information on breathing techniques, or to get in touch and book a workshop or 1:1 consultation contact cognitivemindcoaching@outlook.com


Image credits: Yoann Boyer on Unsplash

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