Breathing and Stress Relief

breathing, stress relief

Do you ever think about your breathing?

It’s pretty important considering you can only survive without air for minutes, and that’s substantially less than the days you can survive without water or the weeks without food…

Do you also need help with stress relief?

Silly question, we’re all stressed! Bombarded with a thousand different things from notifications to texts to coworkers to kids to health to _________________.

Suffice to say, most of us need help with stress…

So what if I told you, it might begin with breathing for you…

That’s because if you’re not breathing the way you should (something easy to overlook), you’re most likely putting yourself in the part of your nervous system associated with “fight or flight”, making your muscles tighter, and creating even more stress in your day!

Let’s briefly talk about your autonomic nervous system.

Your autonomic nervous system is a network of nerves throughout your body that controls unconscious processes. These are things that happen without you thinking about them, such as breathing and your heart beating. Your autonomic nervous system is always active, even when you’re asleep, and it’s key to your continued survival.

It’s broken down into fight or flight (sympathetic nervous system) and rest and digest (parasympathetic nervous system).

Sympathetic nervous system: This system activates body processes that help you in times of need, especially times of stress or danger. This system is responsible for your body’s “fight-or-flight” response.

Parasympathetic nervous system: This part of your autonomic nervous system does the opposite of your sympathetic nervous system. This system is responsible for the “rest-and-digest” body processes.

These two systems create a balancing act and you’re either running in one or the other…

Your sympathetic nervous system activates body processes, and your parasympathetic deactivates or lowers them. That balance is key to your body’s well-being and your ongoing survival.

Back to how NOT breathing effectively affects these systems…

Your body is designed to use the diaphragm as the primary muscle to assist with breathing (especially when at rest – which is conducive with the parasympathetic nervous system – rest and digest).

If your lifestyle and/or posture is sitting at a desk or in a car for 8 hours/day, you may not be using your diaphragm for breathing the way you should…

So let’s look at how to breathe using the diaphragm in under 30 secs.

If you are not breathing with your diaphragm as it parachutes down and pushes your belly out and collapses on the exhale, then you are most likely using the accessory respiration muscles like the sternocleidomastoid, the scalenes, the upper traps, and the pec minor too much and on every breath! These muscles are used to assist with breathing for moments when it’s time for fight or flight, not during times when you are at rest.

So your current breathing may be putting you in a state of fight or flight throughout the day creating even more stress!

Fight or flight is great evolutionary adaptation, but if you’re in that state all day it’s a sure recipe for burnout and adrenal fatigue!

breathing, stress

And the problem with using these muscles too much is that it creates a perfect storm of tightness and creates a cycle of making everything worse.

Muscles like these being used for breathing is a recipe for future shoulder issues, as a tight pec minor makes the upper traps turn on all the time, even during postural stuff like standing on sitting. If the upper traps are tight, they then down regulate the lower traps which are the antagonistic muscle (opposing muscle) of the pecs which creates even more tightness and that rounded shoulder look…

If you’ve had shoulder pain and can’t figure out why it doesn’t get better with physio and massage, perhaps this is where you should shift your focus: Proper diaphragm breathing while stretching the chest! 

So if you are in fight or flight mode all the time brought about by inefficient breathing, posture and stress, it’s constant cortisol release breaking down your muscle tissue, breaking down tour body and putting you in the wrong state for living most of the time. Unless we’re in some kind of danger… Hence fight or flight….

If you want to rest and recover better you want to be in the rest and digest part of the nervous system (parasympathetic)

Make sense?

Here’s how…

  • 3 sec inhale
  • 7 sec exhale

(this is hard so don’t give up if it’s not easy at first)

  • inhale through the nose
  • exhale though the mouth

The longer you can make your exhales the more this will signal to your nervous system to relax and shift to rest and digest.

Here’s how much breathing can affect your mobility and what happens if you go into rest or digest in under 2 mins.

Want to start integrating breath work into your day to decrease stress and shift to rest and digest?

  • Take 10 deep breaths when you wake up (3 sec inhale & 7 sec exhale)
  • Take 10 deep breaths when you jump in bed to go to sleep
  • Take those deep breaths when you’re in the gym when you’re doing a hold exercise… trying to shift your body to more relaxed during exercises like planks which will conserve energy for other movements
  • Take those breaths while stretching, because you only make progress in mobility when your body is relaxed and will accept the new lengthened muscle (like in the video above)
  • Take 10 deep breaths before you move onto your next task
  • And as always to be good at anything, even something as automatic as breathing, it takes consistency, discipline, and mindful practice.

See you in the gym,
Josh Saunders, BS, CSCS