Are you feeling anxious or stressed out? Never enough time to get everything done? Feeling under pressure and overwhelmed? Just breathe……..properly.

Whilst most of us don’t give it much thought, the way we breathe can profoundly affect our physical and mental health.

Breathing is as natural as it is necessary. We can live 21 days without food, 7 days without water and only 5 minutes without breathing.

How we breathe is altered by our emotional state. When we are upset, angry or frightened our breathing becomes rapid and shallow. We may hold our breath for periods of time without even realizing it, and when we do breathe it may be disordered.

Rapid breathing is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system (responsible for the fight or flight reflex) and is designed to be useful in the short term to send oxygen to our muscles and give us energy in an emergency. This type of breathing is usually associated with upper chest breathing. It uses small respiratory muscles in the upper chest attached to the collarbone which consume a lot of energy.

When we are stressed for a long period of time, our altered breathing pattern means we are in effect constantly over-breathing. Breathing incorrectly affects carbon-dioxide (CO2) levels and acid-base(pH) levels in the blood. Apart from increasing pain, it leads to an increased heart rate, anxiety, insomnia dizziness and fatigue.

To breathe properly you firstly need to be aware of your breathing and then correct your technique. Try to locate your diaphragm, it is most efficient breathing muscle and sits in the upper abdomen. The diaphragm rises as you breathe in and falls as you breathe out. Slow, deep abdominal breathing creates feelings of calmness. This type of breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for ‘rest and digest’) which results in a relaxation response. Diaphragmatic breathing will slow our heart rate, reduce stress, boost immunity, regulate digestion, change gene expression and is a useful tool for creating a calm and clear state of mind.

Breath is the bridge between mind and body. It is the only function you can perform voluntarily as well as involuntarily. Regular practice of simple controlled diaphragmatic breathing is one of the most effective relaxation techniques that has the added benefit of boosting the body’s own healing power. It’s simple, relaxing and healing…………………just breathe.