We’ve all heard it said that when people are nervous they should “take a deep breath”. But what is the science behind this advice? Why does taking a deep breath actually help?
Regulating the autonomic nervous system
Slow breathing exercises can significantly improve the balancing of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS is the body’s automatic control of the diaphragm that regulates our breathing. Normally in stressful situations our heart rate increases and breathing becomes uncontrolled and erratic. Deep breathing provides us with a technique that can re-regulate our breathing.
Controlled breathing helps the body return to a state of physiological rest, where the brain and ANS are aligned in a synchronised coherence with one another. By controlling our breathing, we have the ability to enhance both our physiological and psychological functioning in our body. A useful tool that helps you feel in control of your emotions, thoughts and behaviours.
Synchronising our respiratory system
Slow deep breathing aids the process of cardiorespiratory synchronisation. Simply, breathing can reduce the excitability of organs like the heart, to significantly reduce the onset and effects of negative emotions. Consequently, breathing techniques can be utilised to treat stress, anxiety, depression and a multitude of other emotional disorders, as well as everyday life stresses.
Heart rate and blood pressure
Deep breathing has also been shown to decrease heart rate and lower blood pressure in some participants. Research has also found that this is linked to an increase in melatonin production, a hormone that naturally helps normalise sleep patterns, increase relaxation and provide an increased sense of well-being.
Researchers have also discovered a vicious cycle between emotions and heart rate. The more stressed you are, the faster your heart beats. But a faster heart-rate is often interpreted as stress, which means a tough situation can quickly escalate. If you pause for a moment and take a deep breath, this helps everything slow down and break the cycle.
Preparing for exams
One of the valuable and useful benefits breathing can offer for students is its ability to decrease test-anxiety, nervousness and self-doubt before an important exam. Students may see short term benefits from taking part in deep and controlled breathing. If you are worried about exams, we have a blog on nine ways to manage revision stress and tips for the morning of the exam.
Taking a deep breath utilises a range of useful physical and mental health benefits that can help improve your everyday life. When applied on a regular basis, deep breathing can be used as an effective tool to control your body’s reactions to the stressors you experience throughout life.
For further help with exam preparation have a look at our Best Ways To Revise page with links to more articles and resources.