Do you find yourself worrying or stressed?  Are you experiencing panic attacks when you leave the house?  Did you know a simple strategy called Diaphragmatic Breathing can help resolve these problems?

Understanding the Sympathetic System

Our bodies have a system to help us deal with emergencies, the sympathetic system, also known as the “fight or flight response.”  We are all one system, so our emotions can impact our physical health, and our medical issues can impact our mood and feelings. The body has one way to respond to emergencies, and our body can not distinguish between life and death situations or when we just feel stressed or edgy.  

When the sympathetic system is activated, several things change within our bodies, such as:

  • An Increase in our blood pressure
  • Blood flow gets redirected to the major muscle groups
  • Adrenaline is released 
  • Digestion utilizes a lot of energy and tries to empty our stomach

The gastrointestinal system is closely tied to the sympathetic system, which frequently results in problems including constipation, diarrhea, gastritis, and other issues.  This system kicks in when we are in a life and death situation but also when we feel worried, stressed, and anxious.  The good news is that a simple breathing strategy – Diaphragmatic Breathing, can help offset this system, calm ourselves and allow us to think more clearly.  

You may think, “well, I already breathe.  What’s the big deal?”  Two primary things happen when we deliberately choose diaphragmatic breathing. One is that it changes our focus and attention to thinking about breathing differently and away from the stressful situation. Two, it allows us to utilize the muscles at the base of our ribcage, the diaphragm, to take in a deeper breath and expel that breath more completely.  As our brain primarily functions on oxygen, taking a deep breath helps clear our minds and help us to make better choices and decisions.

Diaphragmatic Breathing Technique

An easy way to try this strategy is to imagine you are wearing some pants that are just a little too big, and you need to push out your stomach to keep them up. Place one hand, palm to the body, on your chest, and one on your abdomen and see the difference when you breathe into the abdomen rather than the chest. This strategy can easily be practiced throughout the day, take 2-3 minutes every 2-3 hrs, and just practice diaphragmatic breathing. Also, try practicing when you walk into a new room, when you are stopped at a red light, or when you are stressed. The more you practice, the easier it will be, and it will keep your sympathetic system in check and help you to be able to stay calm and think more clearly. If you would like to speak with a behavioral health professional contact your CoreLife care team for a referral. Licensed clinical social workers are on-site at many CoreLife clinics, so help may be more convenient than you realize!