Can Deep Breathing Actually Help?
Can Deep Breathing Actually Help?
women breathing deeply while standing on a roof in the city

Deep Breathing Techniques during Stress, Loss and Grief

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Question:

I’ve been hearing a lot about deep breathing and stress lately. Is it worth a try?

Response:

When we’ve experienced loss, feeling overwhelmed is only natural. It is essentially our bodies stress response to an understandably difficult situation. And there is a lot we can do to manage this stress, but there is a simple solution anyone can do that is remarkable effective.

My patients are often surprised to know that there is actually quite a bit of medical research showing the benefits of deep breathing. When someone faces a difficult loss in their life, that certainly qualifies as stress. So yes, breathing can actually be restorative.

During intense stress, our respiratory effort (frequency and depth of breathing) tends to be shallow and restricted, leading to diminished airflow. Our body posture can also be closed, meaning shoulders forward with a stooped posture. This body position also contributes to shallow, shortened breaths. Shortened, shallow breathing leads to poor ventilation (less air entering the lungs) which can impact oxygen levels.

Intentional deep breathing can maximize lung capacity (amount of air traveling in and out of the lungs) and is calming for our nervous system. During long, slow breathing one arm of the nervous system, called the parasympathetic nervous system (otherwise known as the “rest and digest” system) is called into action. Our mind and body automatically relax as a result of activating this system. This relaxation effect can also lower blood pressure and pulse.

The act of repetitive, deep breathing increases oxygen flow to the body, including the brain. During times of stress, deep breathing techniques allow for improved focus and clearer thinking. Box breathing has also been shown to improve mood and emotional control. This technique should be repeated 7-10 times in a row and can be repeated throughout the day as often as needed.

Check out this brief video about the Box breathing technique:

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