Dr. Ducharme’s Blog November 12, 2018 Abdominal Breathing

November 12, 2018

The world seems to get more stressful each day. It is easy to feel out of control. I would like to share a simple way to relieve stress quickly.

Try this exercise: begin by closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing. Are you:

·        breathing rapidly or slowly?

·        taking deep breaths or shallow breaths?

·        feeling the breath in the center of your chest, or down around your abdomen?

Most people tend to breathe in a slightly abnormal way. They tend to hold in their stomachs, make little use of their diaphragm, and breathe using the muscles of their upper chest, neck and shoulders. This is not the most effective way to get the needed oxygen to our brain and muscles. If you watch babies or animals breathe, you will notice that they breathe with their whole bodies, their bellies rise and fall with each breath. For some reason, we stop doing this when we outgrow diapers. No one really knows why.

The good news is that we can relearn how to breathe properly – learning to breathe using our abdomens. This can help us control our feelings of stress. In fact, abdominal breathing is the single most effective strategy for stress reduction! A person’s normal breathing rate is 8-12 breaths per minute. But if someone is stressed, or having a panic attack, they tend to breathe faster (up to 20-30 breaths per minute) and more shallowly. Although we may seem to be breathing more when this happens, we are not actually getting much oxygen in, and the breathing is not as effective as it could be.

Abdominal breathing means breathing fully from your abdomen or from the bottom of your lungs. It is exactly the reverse of the way you breathe when you’re anxious or tense, which is typically shallow and high in your chest. If you’re breathing from your abdomen, you can place your hand on your abdomen and see it actually rise each time you inhale. You’ll find that abdominal breathing will help you relax any time you are feeling anxious.

To practice abdominal breathing, follow these steps:

1.      Place one hand on your abdomen right beneath your rib cage

2.   Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose into the bottom of your lungs. Your chest should move only slightly, while your stomach rises, pushing your hand up.

3.   When you’ve inhaled fully, pause for a moment and then exhale fully through your mouth.  Purse your lips and imagine that you are blowing on a hot spoonful of soup. As you exhale, just let yourself go and imagine your entire body going loose and limp. It should take you twice as long to exhale as it did to inhale.

4.  Try to keep your breathing smooth and regular throughout, without gulping in a big breath or exhaling suddenly. Even three abdominal breaths can help you feel more peaceful. If you practice this type of breathing a few times each day, when something particularly stressful happens you will feel comfortable using this technique to feel more in control.