Breathing is so instinctive, you may have developed habits you are not aware of. Start by monitoring your breathing for 48 hours, particularly at moments when you are stressed or anxious. Are you struggling for air, mouth-breathing, breathing rapidly or irregularly or deeply or shallowly?
Better posture leads to better breathing, sometimes within just a few breaths. Correct postures means that the diaphragm – the muscle between the chest and the abdomen, which plays a key role in moving air in and out – is not constricted. Ensure that your back is upright and your shoulders back and down. Your chin needs to be very slightly raised and your jaw, shoulders and neck relaxed.
Excessive sighing and yawning; a feeling of not being able to get sufficient air, known as “air hunger”; or a sense of being “spaced out” may all point to overbreathing (hyperventilation). This can become habitual. Breathing retraining may help, but first see your doctor for a check-up.
That it’s healthy to breathe deeply is just a 20th century myth. When we are stressed or anxious, our breathing and heart rates increase; breathing deeply leads to getting less oxygen, not more, and may increase anxiety and panic. Taking slow, gentle, controlled breaths will be more effective in helping to calm you down if you are stressed or anxious.
Unless you are working or exercising vigorously, unblock your nose and get into the habit of nose breathing. It helps to filter pollutants, allergens and toxins as we inhale, and warms and humidifies the air. When we mouth-breathe, the volume of air is markedly increased, which can lead to a habit of overbreathing and increase anxiety; it also dries out the mouth, and may lead to a variety of dental issues.
Snoring can be associated with overbreathing, due to increased air volume, turbulence and vibration, and may lead to unrefreshing sleep, fatigue, waking with a dry mouth, sore throat or headaches. To improve snoring, always sleep on your side and avoid eating a large meal or drinking alcohol close to bedtime.
When you feel anxious, take time out to destress and calm down your breathing. Introduce some destressing activities into your life; a daily walk in a park or quiet area is great. When you are calm, you will find that your breathing is effortless, and this is the key to better breathing, refreshing sleep, improved mood and better health.