Breathing To Manage Stress

Do you ever stop and think about how you are breathing and how it could be affecting other aspects of your life?


When things occur naturally we can often take these processes for granted and breathing is no exception to this rule. Respiration, as a process, is both ‘automatic’ and ‘manual’, as we can consciously check in with it and start to control it and then instantly go back to a conversation and forget about it all together. But, like our ability to move well throughout the years - if we fail to check in with this process, it can become inefficient. Think of a car … if it is neglected and it goes without a service for years then a number of things will start to malfunction. The human body (and mind) works in a similar way. The challenge for many of us is understanding that everything is linked in some shape or form. The food, movement, environment, thoughts and habits we encompass within our human experience all play a part in what happens to us on a neurological and cellular level. These concepts are becoming ever more important during this time as thing can start to become overwhelming if we are unable to control the filter of information and impact it has on us.


Within the last decade, I have been fortunate to observe how a few simple breathing techniques can help to alter the way in which I and others can start to change the internal environment and overall health. As humans our ability to stay healthy and to build resilience, is by subjecting elements of our experience to a form of stimulus or stress. Take strength for example - lift a weight repeatedly with the correct form, fuel and adequate rest and that stress causes an adaptation over time. On the alternative side of the spectrum - sit in a chair all day and you will basically become a chair (SAID principle - what you do the most you become). The intensity and volume of a stimulus also needs to be taken into account - too much and we become tired and fatigued, too little and it will not be enough to cause growth and/or development. It is important to note that the body interprets stress in a very similar way regardless of where it comes from. Think of a credit card - it doesn’t matter where you spend the money … the numbers still go up and you are still going to have to pay the card off from your bank balance at some point. The good thing is because it manifests in the same way - the ability to hack this process can be simple. The following quote was passed onto me a few years ago - “Between stimulus and response there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” - Viktor E Frankl The above quote refers to the space that is needed to allow us to step back and interpret the information that is on its way in. It ties in nicely with the often used phrase “stop and take a breath” … actually … “stop and take 6-10 breaths”, as this is what has been proven to have a significant effect on the way our body handles stress. In simple terms we have two branches to our autonomic nervous system … one is the accelerator and one is the brake.

THE ACCELERATOR AND THE BRAKE Back to the car … you are driving and you have your foot flat on the accelerator - it would be almost impossible to lie back and relax … you are driving at speed so being alert is required. This is what the sympathetic nervous system is doing - it is stimulated by almost anything and everything; blood pressure, adrenaline and heart rate increase, digestion ceases and glucose release is stimulated by the liver to produce instant energy. Alternatively the parasympathetic (think para-chute) is the brake and six to ten slow breaths (or 6-8 breath cycles per minute) can kickstart the activation of this process which is responsible for many functions including a decrease in; heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate and adrenal production. All of which allows the perfect environment for digestion, immune function and recovery.


Use these methods on waking, during the day, when you feel stress creep up or before bed.

Method 1 - Box breathing - Ratio 1:1:1:1 1 - Lie on your back or adopt a comfortable seated position (with good posture) 2 - Close your eyes (if safe to do so) 3 - Take a full inhale through your nose for 4 seconds 4 - Hold at the top for 4 5 - Exhale for 4 seconds 6 - Hold empty for 4 seconds 7 - Repeat for 10 rounds / breath cycles

Notes - if 4 seconds is too much reduce to 3 seconds, if it is easy move to 5 seconds. Method 2 - The long exhale - Ratio 1:0:2:0 1 - Lie on your back or adopt a comfortable seated position (with good posture) 2 - Close your eyes (if safe to do so) 3 - Take a full inhale through your nose for 3-4 seconds (Breathing into the abdomen first, then the lower side ribs, then finally the upper chest). 4 - Hold briefly at the top 5 - Exhale slowly and evenly through your nose for double the time of your inhale (Chest, Lower side ribs, Upper abdomen) 6 - Pause briefly 7 - Repeat for 10 rounds / breath cycles

Notes - if changing any aspect of the breathing try to maintain the ratios = 1:2. A long exhale has been proven to kickstart the parasympathetic branch of the autonomous nervous system. FINAL NOTE Repetition of the above methods on a daily basis will undoubtedly provide a multitude of benefits over time.

Thank you for reading this and I hope this provides you with a couple of tools to navigate the months ahead.

- David