Why Control My Breathing?
Did you know your breathing pattern could change the way you feel? Your breathing can change your emotions and even your thoughts. When I feel anxious, frustrated or angry – as soon as I recognize I’m getting into negative emotions – I change my breathing. When faced with negative emotions such as fear, anger and frustration our breathing becomes rapid and shallow. A negative emotional state can’t develop without help from your breathing. Simple breathing exercises change your physiology, which affects your emotions and your thoughts. Rhythmic breathing tells your brain “it’s ok.” Which tells your body it’s ok, no need to panic or fight. Stop the stress hormones. I’ve seen this breathing work to decrease dangerously high blood pressure, improve headaches, stomachaches and physical pain.
Anxiety increases pain and we increase anxiety with erratic and shallow chest breathing. Rhythmic abdominal breathing decreases anxiety, averts panic attacks, and moves your system from “fight or flight” to “pause and plan.” Your “pause and plan” system allows your brain to work more effectively, helping you to make better decisions using creativity and imagination.
We have all seen what happens to a baby before they start to cry. Something surprises, disappoints, or frustrates them and their breathing changes. Typically they hold their breath, adding fuel to the fire, and between wails and sobs, they hold their breath again.
Adults do the same thing – change breathing patterns – we just don’t notice. We add fuel to negative emotions and diminish positive emotions with erratic chest breathing. I want to help you learn breathing techniques that will stop you from being hijacked by fear, anxiety and anger and will help your self-control any situation. Your breathing will allow you to stay in the situation and think more clearly whether it’s an unexpected surprise at surgery or at supper. But you will need to start your practice in a non-stressful environment and gradually work up to a stressful one. Doctors, law enforcement and firefighters all spend time training before they are faced with a crisis. The discipline of training yourself to breathe under stress is work – it goes against some stubborn old habits.
Many discover they enjoy the stimulation from stress or worry. You may use it to distract or divert your attention from issues, relationships or projects that need your attention. You will need to engage your will to change this pattern. You may be convinced you need this stress-induced adrenaline boost to solve problems quickly, but research shows just the opposite. Creativity dramatically decreases under stress. The fight or flight response wants to make the person or problem go away – now. After the situation has passed, we wish we’d been slower to speak, patient, creative or had more self-control instead of saying things that diminish people and injure relationships. Simple synchronized breathing helps in these times, but there’s nothing simple about it. Knowing you should be breathing in a crises and actually breathing are not the same. It requires training, practice, and a desire to change. During a crisis, you’ll be surprised at how you’re able to hear from God and be creative. Rhythmic belly breathing during stressful times allows access to important relationships – including God. With practice, you’ll become more resilient and will no longer need as much time to recover from each stressful event.
When you bow your head and put your hands on your knees – a position often used for prayer – you naturally belly breathe
In the Bible* we are instructed to take every thought captive. It sounds simple enough, however, our thoughts are triggered by emotions, which are influenced by our physiology, especially our circulating stress hormones. The more rapid and erratic your breathing, the more stress chemicals enter your system, the more difficult it is to control your thoughts. Your breathing (physiology) affects your feelings and emotions, which powerfully affect your thoughts. Thoughts and feelings affect behavior, which can be embarrassing when hijacked by stress. Before you are aware, you eat something, do something or say something that feels right in the moment but when the dust settles, you wish you’d had more self-control.
Under stress you breathe more quickly and from the chest. The more rapid and erratic your breathing, the more stress chemicals enter your system, preparing to meet the challenge. The rapid breathing causes you to blow off carbon dioxide, which changes the pH of your blood. This affects the ability of the hemoglobin in your blood to release the oxygen it carries. Blood carries plenty of oxygen, but it no longer releases as easily into the brain and other organs. When you breathe more slowly and from the abdomen, it tells your brain and body that you are safe and you can relax. To go a step further, when you breathe out (exhale) longer than you breathe in (inhale), it relaxes you even more. The blood pH shifts to allow the oxygen in the blood to release more easily.** This means that you have more oxygen available to your brain and body. And that’s a good thing.
** Dr. Robert Fried Breathe Well, Be Well)