Deep breathing is a technique that can be used to relax oneself quickly, and practicing deep-breathing exercises regularly may produce beneficial health effects over time.
Breathing is the way that humans obtain oxygen, which is needed for all body tissues, and expel the waste product carbon dioxide.
When the lungs receive oxygen, small blood vessels transport the oxygen to the heart. The heart then pumps oxygen enriched (oxygenated) blood to all body tissues. The body tissues receive the oxygen and transfer carbon dioxide (waste) to the blood, which is sent back to the heart, then back to the lungs and exhaled.
Davis, Eshelman, and McKay (2008) describe two types of breathin: Chest breathing and abdominal (diaphragmatic) breathing.
- Chest breathing is high in the chest, involves shallow breaths, and tends to be associated with anxietyOpens in new window or other emotional disturbances.
- Abdominal breathing is low, involving the entire lung capacity. The diaphragm (large muscle below the lungs) expands, allowing for maximal intake and expelling of air. This type of breathing is natural in infants and in most sleeping adults, but many of us engage in the shallower chest breathing for significant periods of our waking hours.
A variety of breathing exercises have been developed for stress managementOpens in new window and general healthOpens in new window. How-to instructions are described in Davis et al.’s (2008) book The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook.Opens in new window The exercises instruct an individual in slow, deep breathing that involves assuming a relaxed posture, awareness of one’s breathing, and perhaps imagery or counting of breaths.
Deep breathing is often utilized in other stress management techniques, including meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and autogenics. In early theorizing and research on diaphragmatic breathing as a treatment for physical and psychological conditions, Poppen (1988) predicted that diaphragmatic breathingOpens in new window would be especially helpful for asthma, hypertension, and migraine and, in the domain of emotional disorders, for panic attackOpens in new window.
To date, there are still very few studies with outstanding methodologies that demonstrate the helpfulness of deep breathing as a treatment for panic (Meurer, Wilhelm, Ritz, & Roth, 2003). Although many researchers continue to view diaphragmatic breathing as a promising treatment for medical and psycholgocial disorders, further research is needed to produce conclusive results.
- Davis M., Eshelman, E.R., & McKay, M. (2008). The relaxation and stress reduction workbook (6th ed.). Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.
- Meuret, A.E., Wilhelm, F.H., Ritz, T., & Roth, W.T. (2003). Breathing training for treating panic disorder: Useful intervention or impediment? Behavior Modification, 27, 731 – 754.
- Poppen, R. (1988). Behavioral relaxation training and assessment. New York: Pergamon Press.