Let’s start with a REALLY short anatomy lesson.
Some of the critical processes in our body run on autopilot which is why we don’t have to think about blood pressure, body temperature or breathing rates. They happen automatically due to the autonomic nervous system.
AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM
The autonomic nervous system is comprised of two main systems:
Sympathetic nervous system
Parasympathetic nervous system
The sympathetic nervous system orchestrates what is often referred to as the fight-or-flight response when you are under stress. It increases your heart rate and blood flow, quickens your breath, and dilates your pupils. Can you relate?
The parasympathetic nervous system, on the other hand, is sometimes called the rest-and-digest system. After the activation of the fight-or-flight response, this system slows your heart rate and lowers your blood pressure to bring your body back to a relaxed state.
Now you’re probably thinking…okay, sounds good. But how do I access that system that’s going to calm me down?
Last year, I learned that deep belly breathing, also referred to as diaphragmatic breathing, activates the parasympathetic nervous system. You may be familiar with this type of breathing if you practice yoga or meditation or if you are a rescue swimmer in the US Coast Guard (shout out to my friend, Coast Guard Joe!)
Simply stated: taking deep breaths will help stop the flow of stress hormones and calm you down.
Wow! Absolutely revolutionary!
While I believe that some stress and excitement is good for us and can even help us perform at our best, there are definitely times that my stress hormones have been a bit too overactive. Other than a lot of self-talk in my head, I had no strategy to calm myself down. But now I do.
HOW TO DO DEEP BELLY BREATHING
Sit in a chair, with your feet firmly planted on the floor. Keep your spine straight, your shoulders, head and neck relaxed.
Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose so that you feel your belly expand.
Exhale slowly and completely (through either your mouth or nose) drawing your navel in towards your spine.
Try to extend the length of the exhale to be longer than your inhale.
Repeat 3-5 times.
This short exercise will take you about 30 seconds and may result in many benefits, including: slowing your heart rate, lowering your blood pressure, reducing the flow of stress hormones, and greater focus.
I incorporated this practice into my coaching sessions. My clients are sometimes rushing to get to our appointment on time, which can create feelings of stress. Taking three deep breaths together, before we begin, enables both of us to stop the flow of stress hormones and help us transition from whatever we were working on before to giving our full attention to the coaching session.
Can you find opportunities in your day to incorporate some deep breathing?