The way that your breathe changes when you are stressed & anxious.
You can override this through simple breathing exercises.
Find out how in this interview.
In this interview, Tracey Howes explains how breathing changes when we are stressed. She also covers two simple exercises you can do to reduce stress & anxiety.
What Is Discussed In This Video With Tracey Howes
Tracey Howes is a functional breathwork instructor and freediver based on the south coast of England.
Being a freediver means she goes diving without the aid of any additional breathing support. So knowing how we breathe and improving her capacity for holding her breath is somewhat important. That led her to explore more about breathing and the importance of how we breathe.
She trained with Oxygen Advantage and works with all kinds of individuals including athletes, those training for a big event or just generally want to get the most from their exercise
The article below is a summary of the interview. Please watch the full interview for all of the valuable information that Tracey shares.
What Is Functional Breathwork?
Firstly just to give a brief over view of Functional Breathwork is it covers:
When we breathe correctly, in a better way it benefits your health in a number of ways. Within this article Tracey discusses stress and anxiety.
Did You Know There Are Different Types Of Stress?
It is important to understand that there are two different types of stress. Good stress and bad stress.
Good stress would be pushing the body to perform for a sporting activity, for example.
Bad stress is in a sense, where we internalise the anxiety that we feel and the body has a physiological response. So the heart rate tends to increase, the cortisol levels will increase. That can cause shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, headaches, tingling in the fingers and just feeling a little foggy and not really being able to think clearly and reason.
Fortunately, if we change our breathing patterns, we are able to eliminate and alleviate a lot of these symptoms.
Can The Way That You Breathe Lower Your Response To Stress and Anxiety?
When you are worrying, thoughts are whirring around in your head , often you can’t get beyond those thoughts. We literally waste energy when we’re in that head space because the brain requires, fuel to function. That fuel includes glucose and oxygen, just as you need them for your muscles to move so that you can walk or run or sit.
If your brain is using more glucose and more oxygen when you’re worrying, you’re actually just wasting all this energy and putting this unnecessary stress on the body.
Part of the breathwork training that Tracey works with people on is really understanding how to calm the nervous system. How to bring that heart rate down and move from the fight or flight response into the rest and digest response.
Being able to move successfully between both those means that you have a much healthier nervous system. You don’t want to be in the fight or flight all the time, particularly if you’re trying to go to sleep.
But you also don’t want to be in the rest and digest phase all the time, because then you won’t be able to perform when you need to. So the key between that is the breath and understanding how to calm the heart rate, slow the breathing volume down.
There are various techniques that we can use to do that, which when you have developed self awareness, can be a real preventative to help you move away from feeling that stress that anxiety that can literally take over and just make you feel really unwell and out of sorts.
It explains why stress and anxiety is so exhausting as well.
What solutions are available to help manage stress and anxiety?
One of the simplest things you can do, is keeping the mouth, gently closed, focusing on nasal breathing and just slow the breathing down. Anybody can do this, literally within 90 seconds, you can shift your state from feeling stress to feeling calmer and inhaling through the nose and then extending the exhale as you do that.
As an example breathe in for 4 seconds and breathe out for 6 seconds. If you did that for 90 seconds, less than the time it takes to make a cup of tea. You can immediately feel a change in the body. You can start to bring the heart rate down, the cortisol levels will drop. It will, of course, be different for everybody.
If you are in a hyper sensitised state or you’re prone to panic disorder, which is a lot more extreme, the body may take longer to shift. But for most of us dealing with everyday stresses and just needing that moment of calm, just that short 90 seconds inhaling through the nose slowing your exhale down can just re-focus the mind and calm the nervous system. It helps to just bring you into the present moment a little bit as well and just make you aware of what it is that’s whirring around.
It can be helpful to build this technique into your daily routine e.g. when you are making a drink, driving, out walking. Find something you do daily and create this as a habit alongside it.
A Breathing Exercise To Calm Your Nervous System
One of Tracey’s favourite exercises is if you are able to lie down on the floor, on a yoga mat, on a bed, the floor and take a book, something with a little bit of weight to it.
Just place that book on your tummy just underneath your sternum (base of your ribs), so it sits on top. Bent your legs so your knees are bent and your shoulders down relaxed.
Close your eyes and just gently inhale through the nose and softly exhale. You could do the four seconds and six seconds breathing cycle if that works for you. But it’s not essential, it’s not about the number, it’s much more about focusing on the sensation in the body and the purpose of having a book on the diaphragm.
When you take a full inhale, that book will rise, and as you take a slow exhale, the book will fall, and that movement and feeling in the body focuses the mind on the slow inhale and exhale.
If you did that for a couple of minutes, that would really help to calm your heart rate, calm the nervous system and essentially remind the body that it’s safe. That’s a chemical reaction that happens in the brain.
When the breathing is calm, it will send a signal to the brain that everything is fine, everything is good, and a few minutes of that can really have a powerful effect on reducing stress and anxiety.
A Simple Breathing Exercise To Do At Work
You can also be sitting maybe in an office (encourage your colleagues to join in) so you can’t lie on the floor.
Whilst you’re sitting at your desk and merely placing your hands on your lower two ribs, close your eyes and do the exercise seated and feel lateral expansion of your ribs as you inhale. As you exhale, your ribs will be moving back in.
The reason we focus on lateral expansion is because we want you to breathe from the base of your lungs. That’s going to really activate the diaphragm. Your diaphragm needs to move freely.
When were tense we hold so much tension in the muscle that the diaphragm will constrict. By having that movement and that mindful motion of expansion and contraction other than calming mind. It also helps the diaphragm to activate properly and for you to get much more air into your lungs, which essentially oxygenates the brain, the tissues, the organs. As a result you feel good.
How Much Of A Time Commitment Is Breathwork?
Focusing on nasal breathing is step one, avoiding mouth breathing. But then, when people work with me and we do these very specific exercises, they aren’t taking hours and hours. You can do up to 2.5 minutes to 15 minutes a day. But again, it’s what motivates you to want to make those changes. And essentially, it’s a lifestyle change. So if you can incorporate tiny little micro habits into your day today, the long term benefits are phenomenal.
So if this information has meant that you are curious to find out more about Tracey Howes and her course options you can find out more from any of the means below
Taster sessions which are 60 minutes on zoom once a month.
3 week programme working in small groups.
She also does corporate work, wellness retreats, health and wellbeing festivals and works with other healthcare practitioners.