You’ve heard this a million times before. Not only that, you may have caught yourself making references to your breath when you speak. You “lose your breath” when you hear worrisome news. You “need breathing room”. You’re “waiting to exhale.”
Breathing doesn’t just keep us physically alive. It’s a part of our mental state and a big contributor to our well-being. And it can be far more helpful than you ever suspected as you navigate the daily ins and outs of caregiving.
The Benefits of Deep Breathing
Taking a breath calms you down. Slow breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system – that’s the opposite of the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the notorious “fight or flight” response that gets you all riled up. The result is a relaxation effect. And it’s not just about taking a deep breath in; in fact, you may get bigger benefits from exhaling. So think about breathing out as much as you think of breathing in.
It brings you that break you’ve been craving. When you focus on your breath, you stop giving attention to the things that have been stressing you out. It’s a way to center oneself on the body and bring one’s mind to a simple object of focus. In other words, those million little things nagging you really do get elbowed out of your mind for a moment. And that mental break, even if it’s tiny, helps de-escalate your sense of stress and frustration. It’s like chasing a fly out of the room. You didn’t realize how much of your energy was devoted to trying to ignore it until you found the relief of its being gone.
It can lower your blood pressure. By breathing through your nose, you raise the levels of nitric oxide which is a gas made in the nasal passages that helps lower blood pressure and increases your ability to absorb oxygen. Nitric oxide is also an important player in maintaining healthy cardiovascular, endocrine and immune systems. Even better: You don’t have to go to the drugstore to get it.
How to Breathe
Breathing is the first thing we do when we’re brought into the world. And we do it pretty perfectly, right off the bat, all the way through early childhood. But as we get older, we lose our knack for it. When we’re stressed, we tighten up; our stomach gets tied up in knots. As a result, we end up breathing from the upper portion of our core, instead of the lower half. Our breaths are quick and shallow; our shoulders hunch up, and some of its key benefits elude us. The right way to breathe? It’s just the opposite: slow, deep and horizontal.
- Lie down and put something, like a small pillow, on your belly.
- Inhale, filling your belly with air. Ideally, draw the breath in through your nose. You should see the object move slightly upward.
- Exhale, flattening your belly. You should now see the object sinking down a bit. Feel how different this is than filling the top of your chest wan letting your shoulders tense up?
- Repeat, gently and naturally.
Follow these steps and shoot for one minute of “belly” breathing, five times a day.