How Stress Made Us Expert Shallow Breathers

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Living in a world clogged with stress has turned us into shallow breathers, and our bodies get punished for it.

Breathing, something we do without much thought, plays a crucial role in keeping us alive and well. However, many of us are unintentionally doing it wrong. Most people are shallow breathers, primarily using their chest muscles and not allowing the air to reach the diaphragm. A good breath goes deep into the belly, fully filling the lungs, but not many people pay attention to this.

But Why Do We Breathe This Way? 

The answer lies in a culture that normalizes suppressing emotions. Whether it’s holding back tears, stifling anger, dealing with fear, or trying to numb pain, our response is often to unconsciously hold our breath or breathe irregularly. Harvard Health points out that this is a consequence of our high-stress culture, where emotions are often stifled.

In addition to that, our bodies are wired to take shallow breaths when we feel threatened or experience intense emotions. This instinctive response triggers the fight-or-flight mode, causing our muscles to contract and making us tense, resulting in holding our breath. In essence, the way we breathe is intertwined with our emotional well-being and the stress-filled environment we live in. 

Stress leads to shallow breathing, and shallow breathing increases stress. Practice deep breathing that reaches the belly, and break free from the shallow-breathing cycle perpetuated by the demands of our stress-laden lives.

The article published in The Guardian by Breath Coach, Aimee Hartley, notes that this can start as early as feeling nervous in a classroom or dealing with things at home. These tiny pauses in breathing can turn into an abnormal adult breathing habit without even realizing it.

These quick, short breaths we pick up in stressful situations can mess with the flow of oxygen in our bodies, and studies have linked shallow breathing with stress that can easily sneak its way into our routine. The simple act of scrolling through social media, where your brain is dealing and processing lots of information keeps your body on edge without noticing it. Even writing an email or dealing with intense conversations can mess with how you breathe.

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Stress causes shallow breathing, and shallow breathing causes more stress. If we stick to the same routine without changing things up, these habits become second nature over time.

This abnormal, unhealthy pattern of breathing is even more common among women compared to men. The pressure to be super skinny has made women almost automatically suck in their stomachs. The problem? It stops you from taking deep breaths and normalizes breathing into your chest instead of our belly. Most people breathe in by sucking in their stomach and breathe out by pushing it out, but it should be the other way around – fill your belly with air when you breathe in and squeeze it in while breathing out. 

How This Breathing Method Improve Your Health

Taking deep breaths helps your body get enough oxygen, regulate your heart, and keeps your blood pressure steady. It also switches your body from ‘fight or flight’ mode to ‘rest and digest’ mode, telling your body that everything is okay and reducing stress hormones.

This way of breathing is already known to calm anxiety and help with panic attacks. Experts recommend focusing on your breath and taking deep breaths to calm down when things get overwhelming. While we often use deep breathing for extreme mental health situations, we forget to apply the same idea to everyday breathing. Even though regular breathing may not be fast, it’s often shallow and not enough.

This unhealthy pattern of breathing creates a cycle that’s hard to break. However, when practicing deep breathing, the first step is to notice your breathing pattern and then practice exercises that focus on deep breathing to soothe, calm and relax  your body and mind.

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