Wrestling With Our Fight-or-Flight Response
Fight-or-flight is the natural stress response our bodies have to avoid or confront danger. In the wild, this was essential for avoiding harm from other beings, and it can still help us face many challenges today. However, this response doesn’t differentiate between being confronted by a bear and worrying about money, jobs, or relationships.
As a result, constant stress can create health problems such as high blood pressure or a weakened immune system. While we cannot avoid all the stress in our lives, we can change the way our bodies respond to stress by using controlled breathing techniques.
Managing Stress and Anxiety
The vagus nerve runs from the base of the brain to the abdomen. Among the responsibilities of the vagus nerve are lowering our heart rate and controlling our nervous system responses. To do so, it releases a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, which is responsible for calmness and increased focus. Deep and controlled breathing stimulates the vagus nerve to release acetylcholine, which in turn helps decrease anxious feelings. Stimulation of the vagus nerve has also shown benefits in treating depression, especially for sufferers who are resistant to antidepressants.
Controlled breathing isn’t just beneficial for combating stress and anxiety. Whether you’re facing a new situation or going through a difficult time, practicing breath control in stress management can also help you lower your blood pressure and your heart rate. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and lowering it can also help lower the risk of a cerebral aneurysm or stroke.
How to Practice Controlled Breathing
To practice controlled breathing, first find a comfortable and quiet place where you can sit or lie down. Through your nose, slowly take in a deep breath that fills your lungs and allows your lower belly and chest to expand. Hold this breath for three seconds and then slowly let it back out through your mouth. At Ageonics Medical, we believe you should practice this breathing exercise once or twice a day for 10 to 20 minutes each time.
While breathing is a major function we need to do to survive, practicing deep and controlled breathing is a beneficial way to reduce stress and improve your health.