One of your body’s processes that’s always working in the background is breathing. And for most of the day, you’re not even aware of it.
Your autonomic nervous system works 24/7 to make sure that you’re always inhaling and exhaling. This system doesn’t need any input from us to keep working. However, it can change without your permission. If you’ve heard of the fight-or-flight response, that’s one example of how your body reacts automatically. And your breathing rate is part of that stress response.
The Stress Response
Your body’s response to stress is designed to protect you from threats. But your body sees all threats the same way – a tiger causes the same reaction as horrible traffic. So when your body senses danger, your breathing rate speeds up along with your heart rate, and your muscles become tenser.
In the presence of negative emotions, like anxiety or fear, your body kicks off the stress response. So your breathing gets shorter and more shallow, which ends up making the physical symptoms of stress even more intense.
Counteracting the Stress Response
How do you counter this response? Taking several intentional, deep breaths slows down your reaction and reduces the effects of stress. In your more relaxed state, your body senses the threat is gone and returns to a normal state.
Here are a few ways that breathing leads to stress relief:
1. Heart Rate and Blood Pressure
Your body responds to stress by raising your heart rate and blood pressure. As a result, your muscles tighten. Taking slow deep breaths will help lower your heart rate, decrease your blood pressure, and relax your muscles.
When you sit up straight, your airway is open, and breathing comes much easier. Your posture ends up helping your breathing, and with intentional breathing, your posture improves.
3. Mental Clarity
Taking a few moments during the day to focus on your breathing is like a form of meditation. Only thinking about your breath creates a single point of focus and helps you clear your mind.
When you experience stress, you’ll want to deal with the cause of it. But in the moment, when you’re dealing with the stress response, remember to slow down and breathe.
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