Have you ever helped a child calm down by having them take a few deep breaths with you? Intentionally slowing down their breathing is often an enormously helpful tool in teaching children how to manage their emotions. Once a child is calm, then you can work with them to resolve the problem they initially reacted to.
It seems like, as people age and learn to control their outward responses, they stop using many of the techniques that actually calm their emotions and physical responses. Unfortunately, many adults live highly stressful lives and, although they outwardly display socially acceptable responses, they often carry their emotional and mental burdens. Eventually, the near-constant stress takes a physical or mental toll and may cause a variety of health problems.
There are many ways to manage stress. Some of them are simple, like getting enough sleep. If you don’t believe this is an effective way to respond better to stress, think about something stressful in your daily life such as driving in traffic. It is much easier to react well to traffic when you are well-rested than after a week of sleeping poorly. Other simple lifestyle choices that help when you encounter stressful situations include consuming healthy foods most of the time, exercising regularly, spending time with family and friends, and making time for hobbies.
There are also specific relaxation techniques you can practice to counter the harmful effects of stress. Spending time in nature, prayer and meditation, journaling, yoga, tai chi, massage, and deep breathing are proven techniques to calm your mind and body.
Breathing techniques have long been used to calm emotional children and are enormously helpful for women dealing with the pain and stress of childbirth. It has been an integral component of meditation practices for thousands of years. Despite its long history in many cultures, breathing techniques have been largely ignored in mainstream western culture. This is unfortunate because breathing techniques can help manage pain, energize or calm your mind, help you physically relax, lower blood pressure, and even change your mood. Learning to breathe deeply brings more oxygen into your cells, and helps you expel more carbon dioxide. Without enough oxygen, none of your organs can function to their fullest potential. This includes your brain, which means that deep breathing can improve your mental processes.
Calming down in response to deep breathing is not simply a placebo effect. Consciously breathing slowly and deeply activates portions of your brain which control how your body responds. Hormones that are created in a response to stress are reduced, while others that induce relaxation are produced. Your blood pressure and heart rate decrease and your muscles relax. It also facilitates the movement of lymph fluid through the body and bloodstream, helping your body eliminate toxins more effectively.
Deep breathing is easy to do, but many of us need to consciously practice breathing deeply, as we tend to take short shallow breaths most of the time. Generally, the more stressed or anxious you feel, the shorter and more shallow your breathing becomes. This is where practice helps. If you take time to teach your body how to breathe deeply when you begin to feel stressed you can quickly change your breathing pattern to help your body produce a relaxation response.
Deep Breathing Techniques
The first step is to learn the difference between how your body feels when you normally breathe and when you breathe deeply. Here’s how:
Lie down on your back or sit comfortably with your back straight.
Rest one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach, just below your rib cage. Take a few breaths and notice the movement of your hands. Most likely the hand on your chest moves more, or they both move about the same. If you breathe very shallowly, you may not notice much movement at all.
Inhale deeply through your nose, allowing your abdomen to expand. If you are breathing deeply, the hand on your abdomen will rise while the hand on your chest will barely move.
Exhale slowly through your nose and feel the hand on your abdomen lower back down.
Continue to breathe slowly and deeply through your nose.