How Breathing Can Help Reduce Lockdown Anxiety

Learning breathing techniques could help reduce anxiety and depression during the coronavirus lockdown.

Doctors and scientists have long realised the benefits of breathing properly to improve wellbeing during times of stress, says psychiatrist Christopher Andre.

Andre teaches controlled breathing as part of his meditation courses at Sainte-Anne Hospital, Paris.

He believes breathing techniques stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system – part of the body’s autonomous systems that regulates the heart rate and organs such as glands.

Another side-effect is breathing may influence psychological responses by diverting attention away from fears and worries.

Feeling calm and safe

Breathing control is nothing new, he explains, and has roots in ancient cultures and religions. There are now many types of breathing protocols that have become popular, here are a few:

“Every relaxation, calming or meditation technique relies on breathing, which may be the lowest common denominator in all the approaches to calming the body and mind. Research into basic physiology and into the effects of applying breath-control methods lends credence to the value of monitoring and regulating our inhalations and exhalations,” says Andre.

“Even a rudimentary understanding of physiology helps to explain why controlled breathing can induce relaxation. Everyone knows that emotions affect the body. When you are happy, for instance, the corners of your mouth turn up automatically, and the edges of your eyes crinkle in a characteristic expression.

“Similarly, when you are feeling calm and safe, at rest, or engaged in a pleasant social exchange, your breathing slows and deepens. You are under the influence of the parasympathetic nervous system, which produces a relaxing effect. Conversely, when you are feeling frightened, in pain, or tense and uncomfortable, your breathing speeds up and becomes shallower.”

How to control your breathing

So how can you change your breathing technique to help with coronavirus and stress?

One exercise involves breathing in for five seconds and breathing out for another five seconds.

Other techniques vary inhaling and exhaling times, like four seconds breathing in and six breathing out.

“Paying attention to breathing causes most people to slow it down and to deepen it, which is soothing. Cognitive resources are limited, and so when individuals concentrate on breathing, they are not thinking about their worries,” says Andre.

“This refocusing has a relaxing effect on anyone and helps to combat ruminative thinking in people who have anxiety or depression, especially those who are particularly prone to negative thoughts that run in a loop.”

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