We have become pretty bad at the most basic act of living: breathing. We breathe through our mouths and into our chests, and we do it way too fast.
Besides the health problems this may cause, breathing the wrong way may have another big consequence: contributing to our anxiety and other mental health problems.
Many of the techniques that have been formally researched are derived from pranayama, yogic breathing that dates back to ancient India:
Although these shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for therapy or a cure for severe anxiety, they can be a free, simple tool for both short-term relief and long-term benefit.
Instead of trying to think yourself out of feeling anxious, you can do something more specific: breathe slow or fast, in a particular rhythm, or through a nostril; this can work as an instant relief.
A regular breathing practice will help you feel calmer in daily situations, but studies suggest that focusing on your breathing in moments of acute stress could also be useful.
The way we breathe can set off a cascade of physical changes in the body that promote either stress or relaxation.
Breathing impacts the sympathetic (“fight or flight”) and parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) branches of our nervous system, and certain techniques can promote more parasympathetic calm and relaxation. Some may also cause us to release hormones like prolactin and possibly oxytocin, the feel-good hormone of love and bonding.