Deep, Diaphragmatic Breathing help Anxiety, Depression and Insomnia
While you are not exactly being chased by dangerous animals, you may as well be.
Your body’s panic response kicks in as though you are prey.
An intense rush of anxiety sends cortisol hurtling through your veins.
Your mind has been taken hostage by catastrophic thoughts.
Consumed by an overwhelming sense of panic.
When faced with a stressful situation, anxiety is the body’s normal response. Whether the danger is real or perceived, physical or emotional, the mind signals to the body that the “fight-or-flight” response is needed. This stress response can help you stay alert and aware in the face of danger. However for some people it is constantly triggered by events that aren’t life or death.
When stressful situations continuously arise at home, work or in social settings, this can mean that this response is excessively engaged. This stress response “overdrive” can result in the development of nervous conditions such as anxiety, insomnia and depression, disrupting everyday life.
For some, the stress and anxiety is so constant that it becomes normalized, until their health situation becomes so dire that it affects every part of their daily life.
Feelings of overwhelm, unease, distress, dread or despair, or continuous exhaustion due to lack of sleep for a period of more than two weeks, are not normal. Feeling like this for an extended period could mean that anxiety, depression or insomnia is to blame.
One effective tool for managing the mind and body’s response to stressful situations is something that we can all access for free - breathing. For centuries, Yogis, Buddhists, and practitioners of ancient eastern medicine have believed in the healing properties of proper breathing. This is why meditation and yoga practices often include deep breathing techniques.
Numerous studies show the positive impact good breathing has on the body and mind. It can alter the brain's state, enhance memory, reduce emotional stress, and promote a healthy, positive thought process.
And while many people who are struggling to manage and treat conditions such as anxiety, depression and insomnia don’t realise the power of breath, many holistic practitioners do, and often recommend breathing exercises as a tool for managing or overcoming anxiety, depression and insomnia.
Some conventional medical practitioners (such as GPs) are also now prescribing breathing exercises to patients too instead of, or in addition to, other treatments.
Let’s explore one of the most widely used breathing techniques: Deep breathing, otherwise known as diaphragmatic breathing. A 2017 study found that this breathing method may help reduce anxiety.
What is Diaphragmatic Breathing?
First up, let’s clarify what the Diaphragm is.
The diaphragm is a large, dome-shaped muscle located at the base of the lungs that contracts rhythmically and continually. It’s in the centre of the abdomen just below the rib cage. When you inhale, the diaphragm contracts and flattens and your chest cavity enlarges, creating a vacuum, pulling air into your lungs. When exhaling, the diaphragm relaxes, forcing air out of the lungs.
Diaphragmatic breathing helps you use your diaphragm correctly, and breathing deeply from the diaphragm at a slow pace has been shown to evoke a relaxation response of the autonomic nervous system. This breathing technique is at the center of the practice of meditation and is commonly used as a relaxation technique when treating anxiety.
How to practice Diaphragmatic Breathing
Diaphragmatic Breathing is a simple yet effective breathing technique that can be practised sitting, standing up, or lying down. You don’t need to move to a quiet space to do this. The beauty of it is you can use Diaphragmatic Breathing as a means to calm your nerves, lower your heart rate and keep your cool in the midst of a stressful situation
Just follow these 5 simple steps when you need to return to calm:
- Relax your tummy.
- Place one hand beneath your ribs.
- Breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose. Pay attention to your hand rising on your stomach while you breathe.
- Breathe out through your mouth, and feel your hand fall.
- Repeat until you return to calm.
Diaphragmatic breathing involves breathing deep and fully engaging the diaphragm. It helps the lungs work more efficiently and may be a beneficial treatment for people with anxiety, and may help lift mood and calm the mind and body before sleep. While some people find deep breathing exercises are enough to lift their mood or calm their stress response, other people combine deep breathing with complementary treatments.