woman conscious breathing

Could ‘conscious breathing’ be the antidote to feelings of stress and anxiety? Sarah Maber finds out

Take a deep breath. It’s something we tell ourselves when we’re stressed and trying to calm down, but that’s just one of the ways breathing techniques can help regulate emotions and improve your health. Conscious breathing – noticing and controlling your breath – is a proven technique that helps you relax by activating the part of your nervous system that works to relax and slow your body’s response to stress, and helping you let go of negative thought patterns.

“We are often too busy to breathe fully,” says breath coach Rebecca Dennis. “Sometimes we even forget to take a breath at all. Simply by consciously connecting to our breath we can rewire and reset our systems within minutes.”

 

What do we mean by ‘conscious breathing’?

Conscious breathing, or breathwork, is literally just that – being aware of the way you are breathing. It’s nothing new – breathwork has been used in meditation and yoga for hundreds of years. But today the research shows that conscious breathing really does seem to help with chronic anxiety, depression, PTSD and acute stress. Recent studies even suggest that deep, slow-breathing routines can help manage pain and lead to lower heart rates and blood pressure in patients with heart disease.

 

Could conscious breathing cure my insomnia?

Trouble sleeping? Breathing techniques are a great way of getting to sleep – and staying there once you’ve nodded off. Studies show that 20 minutes of slow-breathing exercises before going to sleep is enough to help insomniacs get to sleep faster, wake up less frequently in the night and then go back to sleep faster if they did wake up. The reason? It’s all down to the ability of conscious breathing to help your nervous system move into relaxation mode, and the calming effect of the focused breathing itself.

 

Will conscious breathing help me worry less?

Our brain’s ability to focus is limited, so by concentrating on our breathing, we can actively push out worries and stresses. Research shows that conscious breathing may not only help both with occasional, acute stress, like taking an exam, or giving a presentation, but also with lingering worries. Why? “We have around 50,000 thoughts a day and not all of them are supportive. This can leave us feeling drained or lying awake at night,” says Rebecca Dennis. “Conscious breathing allows us to let go of those ruminating thoughts, and brings clarity, positivity, confidence and energy.”

 

How do I do it?

For sleep…

Try 4-7-8 breathing: Designed to reduce stress, calm anxiety and help you to fall asleep, it involves inhaling through the nose for 4 seconds, holding your breath for 7 seconds, breathing out through the nose for 8 seconds.

For stress…

Try alternate nostril breathing: Sit with your back in a straight line. Breathe steadily and easily. Now press the left nostril closed with your thumb and inhale through your right nostril. Remove your thumb and close your right nostril with your forefinger and exhale through your left nostril. Without changing fingers, inhale through your left nostril. Change fingers, exhale through the right. Continue for up to five minutes.

Want to try other ways to relax or manage anxiety? Give EFT tapping a go and discover the best ways to improve your sleep quality.

Did you know…

Vitality members, you could get 30% off an annual subscription with Headspace. Plus, earn Vitality points from other mindfulness apps. Available with eligible health insurance, life insurance and invest plans. Log into Member Zone for the details.