SECTION 2 Benefits of Deep Breathing Exercises
When we breathe "normally" (ie, when we are at rest and neither exerting ourselves physically nor breathing faster due to panic) we tend to breathe in a very lazy way, drawing in fairly shallow breaths and exhaling only part of the air in our lungs each time.
Optimising Oxygen / Carbon Dioxide Levels
Practising deep breathing is quite different. Because it involves filling our lungs, slowly in a very controlled way, to their maximum capacity and then breathing out in the same slow way until we have completely expelled the very last drop of air in our lungs -- and repeating this for an extended period of 5, 10, 15 minutes or more -- we can achieve the following benefits:-
Our autonomic nervous system normally controls the relative levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in our bodies, without our conscious minds having to think about it much or at all. If however we begin to hyperventilate (breathing too fast in shallow breaths as a result, for example, of the Fight or Flight Syndrome occurring during stress/anxiety/panic), our carbon dioxide levels fall too low and, through an increased acidification of our bloodstream, this can produce symptoms of lightheadedness, dizziness and a tingling feeling in fingers and toes (all of which of course makes us feel even more panicky, making us hyperventilate even more, making us panic even more, and so on and so on in a nasty vicious circle).
Inducing Feelings of Calm
- Deep breathing appears to aid the production within our bodies of Endorphins, produced by the pituitary gland and often described as "natural pain relievers". This effect is most likely indirect and caused by the feelings of relaxation and calm that should result from sustained deep breathing practice.
- Deep breathing lowers our blood pressure, again making us feel even more relaxed.
Immunising Ourselves Against Panic Attacks
- Deep breathing helps to relax the body's muscles.
Regular, daily practising of breathing and relaxation techniques:
- Helps to reduce the chances of having a Panic Attack in the first place by reducing our background stress levels, so that when we do encounter another situation where we may be likely to have a Panic Attack we will be better able to resist it and stop it "taking over".
Blocking Unwelcome Thoughts
- Helps lessen the degree of panic if we do have a Panic Attack.
Our conscious minds are not like parallel-processing computers, and we are (thankfully) unable to process more than one thought stream at a time. But it is hard to stop other thoughts and feelings trying to push in and occupy that space in our minds. This is particularly true of anxious thoughts.
Properly applied, Deep Breathing exercises demand our full concentration and mental focus. With practice, it becomes easier and easier to block or push aside all other thoughts, for the meantime, which would otherwise try to fill our minds with anxiety and fear.
Even if we can't realistically hope for a life of 100% calm and relaxation (which would in any event make for a very boring existence), what we can strive for, and achieve, is a greater sense of balance between Stress and Calm. Learning to practise therapeutic Deep Breathing is one of the simplest and often most effective ways we can begin to reach that equilibrium.