Health: Why Taking a Deep Breath Really Works

It’s common to be advised to “take a deep breath” to relax, or to calm the nerves. But why does this work, and how can we leverage this age-old adage to our advantage?

Science has proven that breath control, specifically engaging in deep, nasal breathing, can help to quell our stress response.  The stress response, often referred to as the fight or flight response, happens automatically when the body senses immediate danger.  The response can be critical in situations in which our survival is threatened. The fight or flight response produces adrenaline, accelerates the heart rate, and dilates the pupils—all of which gear us up to protect ourselves.

But the body cannot always differentiate between a stressful situation that is not physically threatening, and one that is.  Sometimes the fight or flight response is activated when we experience day-to-day stress, such as a tight deadline at work. Engaging in deep nasal breathing helps to minimize the flight or flight response when it’s unwelcome, and instead activates the calming rest and digest response in the body.

To practice deep breathing, inhale through the nose, and fill the entire belly with air until it rises. Then exhale slowly, allowing your exhale to last for about the same amount of time as your deep inhale. It may seem unnatural at first, but developing this skill can be an invaluable tool for managing stress!

Contributor: Jillian Di Fillipo

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