Diaphragmatic Breathing Control
The respiratory centre of the brain is responsible for controlling our breathing, which we tend to experience as an automatic bodily function.
When we become stressed or anxious our breathing rate and patterns change as part of the biological stress response, in order to warn us that we may be under threat. When this happens we generally take short and shallow breaths from high up in our chest, rather than using our diaphragm. The diaphragm is the sheet of muscles that control lung movement and they enable us to breathe effectively by absorbing oxygen and pushing out carbon dioxide.
In order for our bodies to function properly, we need to have a balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide, and this balance depends on our breath. This balance is disrupted when we feel anxious, as we take in more oxygen than necessary; in other words we over breathe, or hyperventilate. When our body detects this imbalance, it produces a number of chemical changes that increase the effects of the stress (fight-flight) response including nausea, sweaty palms, trembling knees and restlessness.
As our mind is designed to look for and detect threats, it begins to produce thoughts and questions about the physical sensations we are experiencing. When this occurs people may have thoughts such as: “What is happening to me?”, “Am I going crazy?”, “I can’t think properly”. Understandably, these thoughts cause distress and they increase our physical symptoms of anxiety, which in turn continues to amplify our anxious thoughts.
Diaphragmatic Breathing Control - Continued
However we can control our breathing. Taking control of our breathing reduces the effects of the stress (fight-flight) response and is used in practices such as yoga and meditation as it promotes the relaxation response (activation of the parasympathetic nervous system) and helps to manage stress and anxiety. When relaxed, we breathe through our nose in a slow and even manner. Deliberately breathing in this manner calms the nervous system, which controls our body’s functions such as the stress (fight-flight) response. By breathing in this way you use your brain and your breath to communicate to your body that it can relax.
Once your body begins to relax, you will feel physically calm and any anxious thoughts will quieten in your mind. Research suggests that by taking control of your breathing, you reduce the likelihood of the stress response starting or reduce its impact, thus over time, improving key biological systems such as the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis (more stable cortisol production) as well as sympathetic nervous system functioning (improved heart rate variability). As you begin to practice breathing control in stress provoking situations, a new neural pathway will be carved in your brain, making it easier for you to repeat this behaviour and reduce stress and anxiety levels into the future.
If you choose to do diaphragmatic breathing control, please try to:
- Do this twice a day over the next few weeks.
- Use the guided audio or text-based version of the guided-audio exercise (found in ”Practise Tools’ & ‘Downloads’ boxes below) to assist you with your daily practise.
- Complete the self-monitoring form (pdf version found in ‘Downloads’ box below) before and after each practise.
Note: You are also able to listen to the guided-audio with one of the the relaxation videos in the box below. Just press play on the audio and then play on the video. You can also switch to ‘full-screen’.
In this box you will find two guided-audios and four relaxation videos to help you with your daily practise.
- The first guided audio (introduction) explains ‘why to do it’ and the second (exercise) is the actual guided exercise itself (what you will use when doing the daily practise).
Diaphragmatic Breathing Control: Introduction
Diaphragmatic Breathing Control: Exercise
In this box you will find two pdfs that you can download to assist you with your practise.
- The first is a text-based version of the guided-audios above and the second is a self-monitoring practise form.
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