The Power of Breath to Calm your Nervous System
Do you want to refresh and renew yourself in literally under 30 seconds?
Read on to find out how…
Guess what? Our breath is one of the most powerful tools that exist within each and every one of us;
- energy generation
- and overall health.
Now before you roll your eyes and skip over this, please read on! I know it seems so simple and you may think, “I know how to breathe!” but for me, I found even though I was constantly inhaling and exhaling, the actual power of taking a deep breath was a mystery to me. So I wanted to take some time to break down this sometimes elusive topic….
To understand the effect breathing has on the body, it’s important to first acknowledge the complexity of the autonomic nervous system, which is what governs this function and other automatic functions within the body – basically, those movements that are typically outside our conscious awareness.
The autonomic nervous system has two branches
The autonomic nervous system is broken into two branches;
- sympathetic nervous system
- parasympathetic nervous systems.
What is the sympathetic nervous system?
When our breathing is short, shallow, and/or rapid, our stress hormones kick into gear—the kind of gear that is triggered when there is a threat. For example, if we are walking down the street and a car has lost control and is heading straight for us, (a legitimate threat to survival) we need this sympathetic system to get us out of danger fast!
Why is this important to know? Because we encounter everyday stressors ;
- traffic delays
- deadlines at work
- difficult relationships/people/clients/customers,
- demands of raising children – the list can go on and on)
These things can tip our sympathetic nervous system into that same high gear as if we were running for our life – essentially we are bathing our bodies in stress hormones all day long. The mind does not know what is a true threat to survival, or a perceived threat – both get the same response – fight, flight, or freeze. Simply put – our sympathetic nervous system is continuously ramping us up.
What is the parasympathetic nervous system?
The second branch of this system is the parasympathetic nervous system, which works to calm us down – it is antagonistic to the sympathetic system. It works to drop our heart rate and blood pressure and initiate a state of calm. This is the system that we want to help kick into action faster, to keep us calm and rational – and one of the easiest and most effective ways is through conscious breathing.
When we use the breath consciously, what we are actually doing is deactivating the “fight, flight or freeze” response and we are allowing our more rational, calm, and introspective parts of our brain to take over. We are able to then make conscious responses to situations versus reactions.
Why am I sharing all this detail with you?! – because it is important to know that applying conscious breathing into your daily life is actually effective…science has proven it.
Let’s break down what conscious breathing is ….
Give it a try: Stop wherever you are. ( You can do this when stuck in traffic, waiting in the grocery line, before a meeting, while out for a walk, etc) Take a deep, conscious breath. Do this by placing a hand on your lower belly or simply turning your attention to your lower belly. Take a deep, conscious breath. Notice your abdomen expanding as you inhale, and feel your abdomen contract as you release. You don’t have to change your breathing simply notice what is already there – your body sensations, emotions, and thoughts. You are creating space for what you have inside you and just taking a moment to turn your attention inwards and notice. Try to be gentle about what you notice in yourself and let it just “be” versus attaching judgment. For example, you may notice your mind is racing (thoughts), and your shoulders feel tense (body sensation) which is in line with feeling worried (emotion) – simply notice this state and through each breath allow this to be there. Many times we judge ourselves in these moments and say things like, “Why am I thinking like this?” or “ I shouldn’t be feeling this” or “What’s wrong with me?” – this is judgment. Gentleness is simply noticing these thoughts, sensations, and emotions and not changing them – just letting them be, versus trying to contort them into something else. Through the breath, we can create space for what is already there, and allow it to be, just as it is.
Now, to be real – does this mean that breath is going to solve your problems at work or take away the traffic delay or stop your screaming child? No – but what it is going to do, is help you to get your rational more calm and collected self (parasympathetic state) to be put forward so that you can respond to these situations (be more self-regulated), versus running on adrenaline and reacting (sympathetic state).
Something I hear over and over from my clients is they want more control and peace in their lives. The breath is an incredible resource, within you at ANY TIME, to help you reset- recharge, and refresh physically, mentally, and emotionally. The power is literally inside you. With this said, I know that many times life throws us things that are beyond what simply applying coping strategies, such as breath work, can help with. In my clinical practice, there is a specific modality of therapy that I use with most of my clients, which is grounded in science, and creates truly lasting change – it is called Accelerate Resolution Therapy ( A.R.T.) Research has shown that clients treated with this type of therapy find symptom reduction on an average for 4 sessions, which is more rapid than any other type of psychotherapy – hence the words accelerated and resolution.
If there are issues you are facing in life, that currently have you feeling like you’re stuck, helpless, and/or hopeless and you are ready to truly create some lasting change and healing within yourself, I am always open to meeting with new clients to assess if Accelerated Resolution Therapy (A.R.T.) may be a fit for you. Just like all other practitioners at Affinity Wellness, you can book right online for your initial session.
About Dana Patterson – Clinical Counsellor
Dana Paterson is a clinical counsellor at Affinity Wellness. While Dana’s practice at Affinity is geared more towards adults, she has had years of experience in the school district counselling students. Dana also has a passion for helping parents of autistic children. Dana has a quiet, calm presence about her and offers a safe, non-judgmental space to learn ways to empower you to live as your best self.