Shallow breathing is both a symptom and a cause of becoming stuck in the stress trap (fight and flight mode). Sometimes we simply don’t breathe much at all.
“It took my breath away.” “I was holding my breath in anticipation.” “Don’t forget to breathe!” “You knocked the wind out of me!”
We use these phrases all the time but we’re not always conscious of the significance of what we’re saying. Our thoughts are messengers, they tell the brain to prepare for action – fight or flight. When our breathing becomes shallow and short, our body starts feeling anxious; the feelings are messengers, they too tell the brain to prepare for action – fight or flight. We think, feel and act our way into a reciprocally influencing perpetual cycle of anxiety.
Shallow breathing is a symptom of stress and anxiety and an indicator that we’ve entered our protective mode. Some of us adopt a type of muscular tension known as “body armour”. Shallow breathing limits the diaphragm’s range of motion, causing us to feel short of breath and anxious. No wonder we feel panic!
Deep abdominal breathing enables full oxygen exchange —expelling carbon dioxide, slowing our heartbeat and stabilizing our blood pressure. (Harvard Health)
Watching or focusing on the breath is a form of mindfulness that can break the pattern of shallow breathing, as we become the compassionate observer, of what is usually, an automatic function. We can vary our breath or count it and gain executive control – conscious awareness over automaticity.
We can use our mind to recalibrate our brain…breathing out, dropping our shoulders and letting go of holding on so tight…
Every time we inhale, we breathe in life-giving oxygen, stimulating the sympathetic nervous system. Every time we exhale, we breathe out toxins and activate the parasympathetic nervous system; soothing, calming, healing, mindfully ‘watching’ and celebrating this life-giving action. Simple yet profound!
With every breath, be in awe, consciously grateful for this wondrous life force.
“Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between breaths.” Etty Hillesum