Just Keep Breathing Breathing is part of our autonomic nervous system (ANS) along with digestion, body temperature, blood pressure, etc. The ANS actually has two parts – the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic is geared towards fight or flight, while the parasympathetic is focused on rest and digest. That means that when you are getting stressed, the sympathetic nervous system is going to take over, resulting in an increased heart rate, faster breathing, and muscle tension. One of the best and easiest ways to switch yourself back to the parasympathetic rest and digest mode is by focusing on your breathing. Your Breath is Your Anchor Because breathing is controlled by the ANS, you don’t have to think about taking a breath most of the time – your body just does it automatically to keep you alive. However, unlike some of the other functions of the ANS, you do have the ability to easily take over your breathing consciously and change the pace and depth. By focusing on your breathing, slowing it down, and making it deeper, you move your body out of the stressed state of fight or flight. This action results in lowering your heart rate and blood pressure, relaxing your muscles, and more. Paying attention to your breath is a way of increasing your feelings of control, reducing feelings of stress, and anchoring yourself in the present moment. Belly Breathing Because breathing is automatic, it can take practice to focus on your breathing in a way that results in relaxation. One mistake you might make is taking in a deep breath and expanding your chest. This may seem to make sense and yet could cause you to believe that deep breathing doesn’t work for you because you don’t feel relaxed. That is because when we take a deep breath, it needs to be in our belly. Your lungs expand downward with the diaphragm, causing your abdomen to expand and resulting in a deep breath. If your chest is expanding instead of your belly, then you are only getting a shallow breath. In addition, it’s the breath OUT that actually causes relaxation. If you focus only on taking IN a big breath, then your body might think it’s time for action and go into fight or flight mode. Making your breath OUT the focus by breathing out for a longer duration than the breath in will result in a greater feeling of relaxation by engaging the parasympathetic system. How to Belly Breathe 1. Put your hands on the center of your belly. 2. Breathe out, through your mouth, as much air as possible. You will feel your hands move inward with your abdomen. 3. Now breathe in through your nose, focusing on expanding your belly and causing your hands to move outward. 4. Finish by breathing out, focusing on pushing the air out of your lungs and causing your belly and hands to move inward. 5. Do at least three deep breaths in order to feel more relaxed. 6. It can be helpful to practice this consistently each day to feel more comfortable and natural. If you are struggling with anxiety, depression, or life stressors, learning healthy coping strategies can feel overwhelming and impossible. Individual, couples, or family therapy can provide you with the guidance, support, and accountability needed to create more peace in your life. Contact us at Champaign Counseling to have someone walk alongside you on that journey towards peace.