“Fight or flight.” This phrase describes your two likeliest reactions to a threat: stand your ground and defend yourself, or skedaddle.
Your sympathetic nervous system is the part of your body which supplies the hormones that assist with fighting and fleeing. Adrenaline increases blood flow to your muscles and kicks your heart into overdrive. Noradrenaline enhances alertness and attention. Cortisol raises concentrations of glucose (your body’s primary source of energy) in your bloodstream.
The fight or flight reaction could prove immensely advantageous if you were confronted by a lion. It is essentially your brain’s equivalent of flooring the gas pedal and putting your body in its best condition to start beating the lion over the head with your fists or sprinting toward safety. To be sure, neither of these strategies are likely to bear fruit if the lion takes especial interest in you, but they are both better than calmly gawking at the cat while it ponders which part of you is tastiest.
Why Is Fight or Flight Bad?
Here is the problem with fight or flight: It serves no real advantage once it has taken effect in response to most modern day stressors. In fact, it can gradually damage your health.
When your sympathetic nervous system frequently elevates your blood levels of stress hormones in response to getting stuck in traffic jams, getting overloaded with work assignments, getting into arguments, and other similar grievances, you are at risk of chronic stress. People who live with chronic stress are at higher risk of suffering from numerous other adverse conditions, several of which are associated with chronic inflammation, including:
- Heart attack
- Chronic fatigue
- High cholesterol
- Migraine headaches
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Breathing Therapy Helps Manage Stress
Breathing therapy, or breathwork, utilizes breathing exercises to improve physical and mental health. Breathing therapy is not the only healthy method for managing stress, but it is always immediately practicable and requires no special equipment.
There are several types of breathing therapy, all of which involve a similar routine. At its simplest, that routine is:
- Find a quiet, comfortable place (if you are able)
- Clear your mind or focus on a relaxing concept
- Take a deep breath, allowing your chest to rise
- Slowly exhale once your abdomen has fully expanded
- Repeat for a few minutes, or until you feel more relaxed
Goodness – just reading those steps feels calming. You may find greater enjoyment from breathing therapy by practicing it as part of prayer, meditation, guided imagery, or an Eastern discipline such as yoga or tai chi. No matter the form breathing therapy takes, it can greatly help to manage stress.
How Does Breathing Therapy Manage Stress?
Breathing therapy may feel spiritual – and indeed it is, when it is incorporated into prayer – but its benefits solely result from increased oxygen exchange. Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain, which in turn activates the parasympathetic nervous system.
In contrast to the sympathetic nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system relaxes your body following a period of stress. It is the “rest and digest” response elicited in part by increased production of acetylcholine, a hormone which slows heart rate, decreases blood pressure, dilates blood vessels, and alleviates anxiety.
In short, by taking deep breaths you are activating your body’s natural method of recovering from stress. It’s like hitting your built-in relaxation switch.
Breathing therapy is not only beneficial to people who are managing stress and anxiety. It is also helpful for recovery from neck, back and jaw pain, chronic pain, continuous headaches, and a range of other conditions. It can even improve athletic performance.
If you would like to learn more about how breathing therapy can help you live a happier, healthier life, then we welcome you to schedule a consultation at Acucare Physical Therapy in Sioux Falls, SD today!