The Effect of Breathing Exercises on the Mind and Body

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Let’s Talk About Stress, Baby

In our daily lives, we often encounter many challenges, and therefore unwanted stress and tension. Responses to such scenarios can be quite individualized, as no two people are likely to respond in the exact same way; however, something that many people have in common when regulating their stress is the tendency to not prioritize breathing. Breathing has been identified as one of the most fundamental aspects of alleviating immediate stress. Stress results in an imbalance of one’s homeostasis, causing the body to trigger a fight or flight response. This results in that person reacting more erratically, all whilst experiencing an increased heart rate, sporadic breathing, and in some cases, a panic attack. Many physicians will recommend patients partake in breathing exercises to combat the onset of these symptoms….but just how impactful can these breathing exercises be to your health? 

The Physical Impacts of Breathing Exercises

One study from 2018 using various bodily metrics provided clinical support for the Western belief that breathing exercises help to alleviate the immediate physiological symptoms of their participants who were experiencing acute, or short-term, stressors. Another study from 2016 specifically found that healthy adults who performed breathing exercises experienced fewer instances of panic attacks than those who did not perform any. A reduction in the frequency of panic attacks may hasten the rise of cortisol levels and help the body return to a state of “resting and digesting”.

The Mental Impacts of Breathing Exercises

The mental health benefits from breathing exercises are almost as blatant as the physical health ben efits. One study from 2018 identified a significant decrease in anxiety levels in participants who perform yoga whilst conducting slow, deep breathing exercises. Current research points to no exercises in particular being most effective at reducing stress levels, so the general consensus among researchers is that you should use whichever slow or deep-breathing techniques come most naturally to you. Over time, this might help to significantly lower your anxiety levels through reduced perception of stress and confidence from having an automatic, stabilizing response to stressors. In the short-term, reduced stress levels are obviously desired; however, long-term, reduced stress levels should be a personal priority.    Research suggests that those who perceive stress frequently are 43% more likely to experience a premature death than their less stressed counterparts. This further sheds light on the importance of integrating low- and deep-breathing exercises to restore one’s homeostasis, both for the present and future wellness of an individual.

Stress and anxiety reduction represent only a portion of the mental benefits that breathing exercises can provide. Breathing exercises reduce the extent of physiological responses enacted and experienced by the body, and may therefore be crucial in the treatment of many mental illnesses symptoms. Studies found that breathing exercises can directly improve the mood and stability of those suffering from depression and major anxiety disorders. Depression treatment, in particular, has seen major success following the incorporation of breathing exercises into cognitive therapies. Research from 2008 supported this finding. More significant reductions in depressive symptoms were associated with interventions that incorporated breathing exercises than those that did not. Additionally, it is commonplace for phobia treatments to incorporate breathing exercises into patient routines. This ensures they have an easy method of calming themselves down as they confront personal fears. 

Take a Slow, Deep Breath!

Ultimately, breathing exercises can serve as an effective tool for treating both the physiological and psychological problems that we all experience from time to time. The ability to remain in control of acute stress appears clinically useful in preventing the downstream, long-term impacts associated with elevated stress levels. The consensus on breathing techniques is that they are important for maintenance of homeostasis in the body. Though the body can be quite complex, breathing exercises represent a simple way by which we can re-establish control.

Written By: Jackie Shi

Edited By: Camden Rowe

* All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.