Using the Breath to Control Reactions and Responses
Stressed? Take a Deep Breath.
Feeling burned out? stressed? Maybe you’re dealing with pain after over-doing it at the gym? We've got news: activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System or "PNS" can help you control your emotions, stress responses, and pain responses.
If you've ever wished that you had a personal "calm button" that you can use at any time to get you through a tough moment, read on.
What Is the Parasympathetic Nervous System?
The autonomic nervous system is made up of the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. These innate systems govern everything from the “fight-or-flight” response to how we digest food and even the quality of our sleep. When you’re feeling stressed, your system automatically releases cortisol. This adrenaline-like hormone increases feelings of anxiety and uncertainty when it reaches high levels in the blood.
The good news is that you can help manage your cortisol levels by gaining control of the autonomic nervous system by managing your breathing. Research shows that we can maintain and control the autonomic nervous system by monitoring our breathing using a specific strategy.
Using Breathing to Control the Parasympathetic Nervous System
When stress starts to build, you can reduce the pressure by breathing in the correct manner. We can activate the parasympathetic nervous system by taking longer exhales and relatively shorter inhalations.
This breathing method involves taking a deep breath into the lungs, then exhaling for four to five times longer than the inhale. For example, it takes you two seconds to complete the inhalation and then eight seconds to exhale.
When exhaling, you control your breath, releasing it in an even and consistent manner. After repeating this breathing pattern 5 - 10 times, you’ll likely notice that your mind is calmer and more clear. In this calmer state, you're able to better manage your emotions and better cope with your pain and/or stress.
You can complete this breathing exercise at any stage where you feel stressed or injured. It works surprisingly well, provided you can clear your mind enough at the time to control your breathing.
What Can You Expect from Using this Technique?
Using this breathing technique correctly may provide instantaneous results or it may take some practice. Try not to worry too much about "getting it right" all at once. When properly executed, you may feel better in 5-6 breath cycles. It's also important to note that you’ll eventually reach a threshold where you experience diminishing returns from the exercise. More isn't always necessary; the aim is to give you space and time to calm yourself and regulate your nervous system.
Regularly use of this breathing technique helps keep your mind in a balanced state, relieving stress. The practice also works when you experience minor pain and shock from an accident or injury. It might seem hard to control your breathing in this kind of situation, which is why practice is important so that you are conditioned to breathe through stressful situations.
Use this practice regularly and you’ll find it easier to focus on your breathing in times of crisis, allowing you to control your emotions, manage your stress and pain responses.