Self-Regulation Through Conscious Breathing

Have you ever noticed what your breathing is like when you are stressed, anxious, or panicked? It probably takes the form of being short, rapid, and shallow and associates with a rapid heartbeat, sweating, or trembling sensations.  Now think about what your breathing is typically like when you are feeling calm and relaxed.  Hopefully you notice that your breaths are longer, slower, and deeper and is associated with relaxed muscles and normal heart rate.  Since breathing is an automatic process for us, we generally do not pay attention to it however we can experience many benefits physically, emotionally, and mentally if we make a conscious effort to focus on and manipulate it.  

So how does conscious breathing work?  Our bodies can never be in a state of tension and relaxation at the same time therefore when we consciously direct and manipulate our breathing we activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation and receptivity and this causes us to deactivate our sympathetic nervous system, which is our fight or flight response.  By focusing on taking deep, slow, and long breaths, we are able to send messages to our mind and body that influences us to feel calm, soothed, and re-energized.  

There are many different types of conscious breathing exercises we can practice however I have included two simple techniques that you can implement into your daily activities:

Equal breathing:

Sit or stand in a comfortable position and close your eyes to help block out any distractions. Take a deep inhale through your nose for a count of four and then exhale through your mouth for a count of four.  Repeat this sequence 4-5 times.

Abdominal breathing:

Again, sit or stand in a comfortable position and close your eyes to help block out any distractions.  Place one of your hands on your chest and your other hand on your stomach.  Inhale deeply through your nose and ensure that your diaphragm inflates, not your chest, so that air is moving through your lungs. Exhale through your mouth and repeat this sequence 6-8 times for one minute.

One of the greatest benefits of using our breath as a coping skill and self-regulation tool is that we can do it anywhere and at any time and it only takes seconds to minutes for us to experience results.  Incorporating simple breathing exercises into our daily routines by creating rituals can help increase our awareness, relax our mind and body, help us tackle the stressors of our day more effectively, as well as deepen our positive experiences by being more mindful in the moment.  

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT