When we are in the middle of a stressful situation, the heart rages, the muscles tense and the breathing quickens.
The body prepares to attack or to flee, even if the monster we are facing is
a lot of work to do in a very short time.
Having a demanding job and few resources to face it is one of the main scenarios where stress arises which, according to the latest official data, is already the cause of 30% of sick leave in Spain.
Several recent research explains how we can use our breath to calm ourselves and control our emotions and why this simple technique is so effective.
In the middle of a peak of stress, it is very difficult to relax and break the vicious circle of thoughts that has led our body to be on guard.
Think how unhelpful it is for a partner to tell you "calm down."
Neuroscience research has found that during times of stress the part of the brain responsible for rational thinking is affected.
This explains why it is so difficult to relax using logic.
This can also make it difficult to think clearly, make decisions, or be emotionally intelligent with others.
"The goal of the brain is always to survive, so in times of stress it gives priority to activating the amygdala, which is in charge of managing emotions," explains Dafne Catalunya, psychologist and founder of the European Institute of Positive Psychology.
"For this reason, when there is a lot of emotional intensity, there is not so much connectivity in the part that is responsible for making rational decisions."
Controlling breathing has been shown to be helpful in managing stress in the short and long term.
"If you use a technique that does not involve the rational part, such as breathing, you will be able to decrease the intensity of the emotion and make the brain recompose itself", adds Cataluña.
Breathing changes when pressure starts.
It happens little by little: we begin to hyperventilate, that is, to take in more air than we release, to inject a large amount of oxygen into the blood and activate us for action.
The problem is that this breathing also creates more stress and cortisol.
To regain calm it is necessary to change the type of inhalation and exhalation.
"When you inhale, your heart rate accelerates.
When you exhale, it slows down.
Inhaling for a count of four and exhaling for a count of eight for a few minutes can begin to calm your nervous system.
When you feel agitated, lengthen your exhalations, ”advises Emma Seppälä, a researcher leading two recently published studies exploring these breathing techniques.
Seppälä and her team have found that controlling the way we take in air is more effective in reducing stress than techniques based on mindfulness or work on emotional intelligence.
"Among the study participants, those who did the breathing exercises experienced greater benefits in mental health, social connection, stress level and depression," explain the authors of the research carried out by Yale University.
In collaboration with a team from the University of Arizona, they also compared breathing strategies to a workshop that taught cognitive strategies for stress management.
But they found that those who tried to think rationally to relax had higher respiratory and heart rates than those who focused on breathing.
"Learning to control their air intake had helped them reduce the anxiety associated with anticipating a stressful situation."
Not just to relax
Not just to relax
Controlling your breath can also be used to manage the moods or emotions that we feel in each moment.
Research shows that different emotions are associated with different ways of breathing.
For example, when we are happy, our breathing is regular, deep and slow.
If we are angry, it is more irregular, short, fast and superficial.
"Usually, breathing is used to change from a more active to a more relaxed state. Associating the type of breathing with the emotions we want to feel is an interesting advance. It can be a wonderful tool for emotional management," says Catalonia.