Stress changes the way we breathe. Instead of low, slow, and through the nose, we breathe into our upper chest and our neck muscles take over the normal work of the diaphragm. Our breathing rate goes up (as does our heart rate and blood pressure). Our breathing becomes irregular with frequent sighing, often noisy, and we switch to mouth breathing. Over time, if stress continues, we end up breathing this way all the time. Our brain actually re-sets our breathing to faster and heavier- the first of two vicious circles that few people know about. We end up effectively over breathing all the time.
Just as our breathing changes with stress, our brain (which monitors our breathing round the clock), reacts to changes in our breathing. If we breathe fast and heavy, our brain thinks we are under threat- and we go into fight or flight mode, keeping us breathing heavy: a second vicious circle.
Such reactions sap our energy. One of the first things to suffer is our sleep. Sleeping badly has its own consequences, as most of us know.
The way out is first to learn how to reverse the cycle. We calm our breathing down, our nervous system picks that up and tells our brain that actually all is well…we are safe…so we relax. Using breathing exercises we re-establish the good natural breathing pattern we all were born with. We start to feel better, sleep better, we are more in control; breathlessness disappears, panic becomes a thing of the past, as demonstrated in this short video.
Functional breathing is covered in the NHS by respiratory physiotherapists. They tend to dedicate their time, however, to respiratory conditions such as asthma, COPD, emphysema and of course Covid. They recognise breathing´s vital role in controlling stress, anxiety and depression, but leave it up to others to provide the treatment.