Breathing to Reduce Stress

Most of us lead stressful lives. Stress is one of the major factors contributing to deaths due to heart disease, cancer, lung diseases, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. Stress management specialists and lung specialists like me usually work in tandem to reduce the symptoms of tension. Many patients complain of difficulty in breathing when they are under tremendous stress or have anxiety attacks.

Relaxed Breathing Helps Manage Disorders

Superficial upper chest breathing is part of a usual stress response. This can be controlled with measured abdominal breathing. It is important to train yourself to control your breathing in order to fight against some common illnesses that cause difficulty in breathing, like:

  • Asthma
  • Stress
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Chronic pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Some skin diseases like, eczema.

You need to breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. The respiratory centre of your brain automatically controls your breathing process. Though your body is tuned to carry on this basic function, you can, however, change your rate of breathing with practice.

The right technique of respiration can help reduce stress and associated stressful conditions by calming the nervous system. Meditation through Yoga, Tai Chi, Pranic Healing, Reiki, etc. can have healing effect on the mind and body. Meditation is conscious or controlled breathing.

Your Breathing System

The mass of muscle below your lungs is the diaphragm. When you inhale and exhale, the diaphragm contracts and relaxes. The air is pulled into the lungs while breathing in and pushed out when breathing out. The intercostal muscles between the ribs help to inflate and deflate the chest wall simultaneously with the diaphragm. When you breathe well, the diaphragm uses the lower abdomen, which moves in and out quietly.

Symptoms of Stress-related Breathing

You will understand you are tensed when you notice a considerable change in your breathing pattern. You will take short breaths and use your shoulders instead of your diaphragm to inhale and exhale. This will release a lot of carbon dioxide from your blood and cause imbalance of the gases in your body. Your brain measures the amount of carbon dioxide in your blood, and not the oxygen level, to set your breathing rate.

This kind of shallow and rapid upper chest breathing increases the symptoms of stress, like:

  • Persistent anxiety
  • Panic
  • Tautness in the chest and in the muscles
  • Constant tired feeling
  • Weakness
  • Sleeplessness
  • Heart palpitation
  • Numb and cold hands and face
  • Headache
  • Body aches.
Treatment of Stress

In case you experience the above-mentioned symptoms, my advice as your lung specialist will be to calm yourself. Breathe slowly, deeply and gently through your nose, from your abdomen. Relax. This will automatically relax your nervous system.

Once you try and imitate relaxed breathing patterns, you will notice the following functional changes in your body:

  • Feel calm and good
  • Feel energetic
  • Stable amount of blood oxygen and carbon-dioxide
  • Decrease in the levels of stress hormones
  • Decrease blood pressure
  • Controlled heart rate
  • Better immunity
  • Decrease in lactic acid growth in the muscle tissue.
Therapy for Stress-related Breathing

It is best to try abdominal breathing instead of chest breathing, unless concentrating on your breathing aggravates your hyperventilation or feeling of panic. Otherwise, try other ways of stress management.

One of the various breathing techniques will be to:

  1. Choose a quiet place
  2. See that you are not disturbed for the next 10 to 20 minutes
  3. Set an alarm if you need to finish exactly on time
  4. Sit restfully
  5. Raise your rib cage to expand your chest
  6. Put a hand on your chest and the other on your stomach
  7. Observe if your chest and abdomen are moving in rhythm
  8. Focus on your breathing, and inhale and exhale gently. Use your nose to breathe
  9. Your diaphragm should be in step with your abdomen, rather than your chest. So, keep your upper chest and stomach motionless
  10. Release tension with each breath
  11. Relax and enjoy the quiet calm
  12. Be stress free.

Though all these techniques are not strictly medical, some people do get relief.

** This site is for patient information only **