Stress Management Techniques – Breathing – Part 2 of 4

December 2, 2022

Last week we introduced the topic of stress management and what stress does on our bodies, and how it impacts our pain. We discussed journaling to note what and how you are feeling and utilizing gratitude to balance and focus on positivity.

This week I’d like to introduce the importance of breathing. Breathing is an incredible tool that can help us balance stress, emotions, and pain. Did you know there is a right and wrong way to breathe? When our breathing changes, it impacts how oxygen gets to our tissues and organs, our overall biochemistry, and our overall health. We breathe about 22,000 times a day. That is a lot of opportunity to make each breath work for you or potentially against you. Being aware of your breathing patterns and understanding how to appropriately breathe can be an excellent way to manage stress.

Looking at how you breathe is a good start. Sit down in a quiet place, ideally in front of a mirror. Put a hand up on your chest and on your belly. Take a nice deep breath in. Did your hand on your chest rise upward towards the ceiling? Or did your hand on your belly expand out in front of you? Many of us are taught to stand tall and “suck it in”. As a result, we tend NOT to breathe through our bellies, and instead utilize the muscles in our neck and upper rib cage instead. Step one in improving your breathing is to learn how to become more comfortable with belly breathing. As you breathe in, let that hand on your belly expand outward. As you breathe out, that hand should return inward towards your body and feel even a light contraction of your abdominal muscles creating a little pressure as if you were blowing out a birthday candle. Your hand on your chest should not move much if at all.

Next identify if you are breathing in through your nose, mouth, or both? Unless you are engaged in high aerobic activity (running, etc) you should practice and become comfortable breathing in and out through your nose. This can be especially important while you sleep. Breathing through your nose while sleeping can improve your immune system as well as your respiratory system efficiency. You may use paper tape to tape your lips closed at night to promote nasal breathing. There are certain situations this is not appropriate for, and you’ll want to discuss with your New Life Physical Therapist or health care professional to see if this is appropriate for you.

Finally, you can consider the rate of your breathing and length of your inhale and exhale. Slowing the first part of your exhale can help slow your breathing rate in general. Practicing minimizing your breath in can restore normal PH of our blood that allows oxygen to be best delivered that can calm our nervous system, tissue healing, pain, and emotional well-being. Your overall posture and core activation is very closely related to breathing. When you look at all of this, it is easy to see why understanding how you breathe, matters.

Next time you are feeling stressed, pause, take a moment and focus on your breath. You’ll feel better for it!