Haims: Breathing through anxiety and depression
Ever wonder why our body unconsciously and involuntarily gasps for air when shocked or threatened? Conversely, we could exhale.
There are many physiological reasons why our first response is to gasp and take a quick breath. Some reasoning includes our fight-or-flight response and our brain preparing our body for a quick reaction by releasing adrenaline along with our eyes dilating to allow us to see better. However, one reason is to push oxygen to our muscles and organs that will need to be kicked into high gear.
Our breath regulation both prepares us for quick response but also calms us.
Today, I’d like to share some of what I have learned about the benefits of breathing as it relates to our general and mental health. Taking a deep breath can help control general stress, alleviate anxiety, depression, and reduce muscle tension.
I have never done yoga. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t place a value on it and believe in its benefits. For people of all ages, yoga offers both physical and mental health benefits. It’s far more than just physical poses and exercise. For millennia, yoga and mindfulness disciplines have proven that breathing influences people’s state of mind and overall well-being.
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Research shows that yoga assists with stress management, mental health and sleep quality, and promotes healthy eating and weight loss. People who regularly practice yoga most often notice that their nervous system calms down and the fight-or-flight state of daily life dissipates allowing people to find peace in the present moment.
Interestingly, one of the benefits of practicing breathing, particularly slow abdominal, while doing yoga is its effect on our vagus nerve and how these nerves affect mood and depression. The vagus nerves are the main nerves of our parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS). The PSNS is a network of nerves that control our heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, urination and sweating and relaxes our body after periods of stress or danger.
Studies have shown that vagus nerve activation not only treats depression, but also chronic stress, migraines and rheumatoid diseases. The subject matter has been prolific recently with research institutions, newspaper articles, books, and even YouTube videos. Learning about and practicing different breathing disciplines can be done anywhere, at any time, to stimulate the vagus nerve and lower stress responses.
Managing one’s depression, anxiety, and/or a stressed life in general can be accomplished in many ways. Some may prefer a holistically managed approach while others may desire a more medical approach — it’s a personal thing. However, for those interested in trying an approach that entails the mind, spirit and emotions, an attempt to try breathing differently may be an approach to consider. It is clear that the vagus nerve plays a great role in connecting our body’s parasympathetic nervous system to our brain and thus can assist in managing our physiological stress response.
When you employ exercises that tell your brain and body that all is well, you not only can tap into a better headspace, but your physical health benefits, too. Here are some ways you can naturally strengthen your vagus nerve:
- Meditation: This can be accomplished in many ways and does not have to be a long and drawn-out process. If interested, go online and search for an app that can guide you through the meditation or mindfulness process. There are plenty to choose from, so find one that works for you.
- Deep breathing: Try this and see if you feel any better. If you do feel it helps, there are many techniques available, yoga just being one. Inhale (through your nose) for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of six, exhale slowly (through your mouth) for a count of six-to-eight. Repeat as many times as you need.
- Hum: Yes, that’s right, hum. According to research, some from prominent institutions like the Cleveland Clinic, and the The American Institute of Stress, those sounds and vibrations may stimulate your vagus nerve.
Life can be stressful. The more tools we learn to help manage stresses and anxieties, the better we will be. Take some time to learn about activating the vagus nerve, it may be a great and useful tool.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He is an advocate for our elderly and available to answer questions. His contact information is VisitingAngels.com/comtns and 970-328-5526.