Breathing and Mental Health


Dr. Jason Sellers

As we start back into the fall routine, life can quickly get stressful with work deadlines, kids activities, colder temperatures, and fewer hours of sunlight. It’s a perfect time to take a moment to ground ourselves and focus on mental health.

A woman breathing in deeply in the forest

What is the importance of breathing?

Breathing is something we usually don’t even think about, but it is a bodily process essential for our survival. Every breath we take provides the body with oxygen, which is needed in order to use energy and fuel our cells.

Breathing is regulated in the brainstem, an area of the brain that controls many processes that happen without any conscious awareness, like your heartbeat, your body temperature, and your digestive system. The interesting thing about breathing in particular is that, while it is a subconscious process, it can also be controlled consciously.

How can mindful breathing help me?

Breathing is actually closely related to our heart rate, a phenomenon known as “respiratory sinus arrhythmia.” Keep two fingers on your pulse and see if you can notice that when you take a big deep breath, your pulse gets slightly faster, and when you exhale, your pulse slows down. This intrinsic relationship between breath and heart rate is why deep breathing is such a useful method for relaxation.

The nice thing about breathing exercises is that you can do them whenever and wherever you are. Whether it’s before bed, driving to work, or before a big meeting, they can help keep you calm and collected – and even slow your heart rate!

What are some practical things I can do to get started?

There is a great breathing exercise called the 4-7-8 technique that takes advantage of the relation between breath and heart rate. To do this, simply take a slow deep breath through your nose for a count of 4, hold that breath for a count of 7, and then exhale through your mouth while making a whooshing sound for a count of 8. By taking longer to exhale, you are able to consciously slow your heart rate and help calm stress and anxiety.

The best part is that this breathing exercise is just the beginning. If you’d like to talk about other relaxation techniques that can help with mental health, or if you’re considering starting therapy, feel free to make an appointment with your Radish psychologist today!

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