How to Breathe Properly in Times of Stress

by Percival J. Meris on July 13, 2009

DO YOU NOTICE THE WAY YOU BREATHE WHENEVER YOU FEEL STRESSED? You tend to breathe faster and shallowly. This manner of breathing causes constriction in your blood vessels, because it brings down the carbon dioxide level in the blood. In many cases, it results to hyperventilation, throwing your metabolism completely out of whack.

Good vs. Poor Breathing

Good breathing habits keep the metabolism in balance. Aerobically, it produces up to 99% of the body’s energy. On the other hand, a significant drop (around 85%) in the energy level takes place among people with poor breathing habits.

Poor breathing habits bring about physiological changes that disturb the O2 to CO2 ratio (pH balance) in the bloodstream. The effect is reduced energy and a general feeling of anxiety or poor health. A majority of us have learned to breathe this way, a behavior we can unlearn nevertheless, given time and effort.

Proper Breathing Procedure

Those of us who are poor breathers need to first become aware of the way we breathe. We can do this by listening to how we actually breathe. Take a count of the number of breaths we take per minute. If in a relaxed state it exceeds way above 12, we need to learn proper breathing habits. Here is an exercise we can follow:

    1. Relax the stomach muscles while breathing.
    2. Inhale through the nose slowly to a count of 3.
    3. Hold your breath for one second.
    4. Exhale to a count of 6.
    5. Repeat three times.

Notice that it takes double the time to breathe out than to breathe in. It is because exhaling eliminates 70% of your body’s waste. This allows your body to balance its metabolism and pH levels. It also increases energy. Therefore, as you do this in times of stress, you will be causing your body to relax. Your fight-or-flight response produced by the stressful situation will then recede quickly.

A special way of breathing that does not only relieve stress but improves the overall health is the Chinese ancient art of Tai Chi breathing. A good practical instructional piece of literature, entitled Basic Tai Chi Breathing: A Simple Step-by-Step Guide by C. Guan Soo discusses 5 easy steps toward greater health and mental strength using this technique.

Making Proper Breathing a Habit

While this techniques works well in stressful situations, it should be practiced as a matter of habit in our daily lives. We need to be aware of our present breathing habits, and remind ourselves to stay in control of the way we breathe.

In the beginning, we need to be conscious of our new way of breathing, but in time we will develop it as a habit. Perhaps, a timer could be a helpful device for this purpose. Set it to beep every 5 minutes to remind you to check your breathing. Without this aid, we can easily lose track of our breathing, as we submerge ourselves in our daily activities.

Another way of helping ourselves to be reminded is through the repetition of the mantra “I am breathing in” and “I am breathing out” to establish the proper rhythm. In the long run, proper breathing will take over automatically and unconsciously as a result of this practice.

If you condition yourself to breathe properly, you will be able to alleviate your stresses and anxieties when situations arise, and keep yourself calm and rational as you go through it. Remember, you can learn good breathing habits. So, start training yourself now, and get yourself on the track to a happier, healthier you.


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