Stress is a natural reaction to life experiences, and it affects us all. There are times however when things start to get a bit out of control.

Right now with the devastating impacts around the world of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the changes all of us have been forced to make, it’s no wonder more people are feeling anxious and stressed.

We thought this would be a good time to talk about breathing, and how learning to breathe correctly can have a positive effect on stress levels.

What is the relationship between breathing and stress?
If you’re feeling stressed for a period of time, it can trigger changes to the way you breathe, causing rapid, shallow, upper chest breathing. This can lead to musculoskeletal pain as you start using your accessory muscles instead of the diaphragm for breathing, leading to neck and shoulder pain, and headaches.

Rapid upper chest breathing also upsets the oxygen / carbon dioxide balance in the body, leading to a number of unpleasant symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, fatigue, feelings of not being able to get enough air, and disturbed sleep. It can also lead to feelings of stress and anxiety – so the whole thing becomes a vicious cycle, with stress creating altered breathing which in turn creates more stress!!

If you notice you are yawning or sighing a lot, breathing through your mouth, having trouble taking a big breath, or feeling like you can’t get enough air – you may well be suffering from a breathing pattern disorder, which perpetuates stress and anxiety.

Once a faulty pattern is established, it can keep causing symptoms (including stress and anxiety) even when the initial cause of the stress has resolved.

How to fix faulty breathing
Focusing on diaphragmatic breathing and relaxation, and putting time aside to practice this each day, can make a big difference. There is research showing breathing retraining and the restoring of correct diaphragmatic breathing patterns can help to reduce levels of stress hormones in the body and make you feel better.

Try lying down in a quiet place, with a pillow under your knees, and your arms relaxed at your side. Focus on breathing gently in through your nose. This helps facilitate the diaphragm. As the diaphragm moves down when you breathe in, it forces your abdominal contents down, and your tummy goes out. Feel the tunny rise gently as you breathe in, and fall again as you breathe out. Pause at the end of the out breath, and then repeat. Try to focus the mind on the breathing, and aim for 10 minutes twice a day.

Further help
If you are having difficulty changing from an upper chest breathing pattern, you may need some help. Liz Childs, one of our pelvic health physios, also has extensive training and experience in treating breathing pattern disorders. (They are often associated with pelvic floor dysfunction!)

Call us and book an appointment if you feel you’d like some extra help learning to breathe correctly and reducing anxiety. Liz can take you right back to basics with teaching correct breathing patterns in lying, and then incorporate it into other positions and activities. Don’t let faulty breathing the driver of your stress.