The primary role of breathing is to absorb oxygen and to expel carbon dioxide through the movement of our lungs. Muscles that control breathing are the diaphragm and the muscles between the ribs, while the breathing function is controlled by the respiratory center of the brain. Pure physiology.
However, we have the power to consciously control our breathing. Why is this important? Because controlling your breath can help you cope with stress and stress-related situations.
Breathing and Stress
You have probably noticed how your breathing differs when you feel relaxed from when you are stressed and anxious.
When we are under stress our breathing pattern changes. Usually, when we feel anxious we take small, shallow breaths, using our shoulders rather than our diaphragm to move air in and out of our lungs.
This breathing pattern, known as hyperventilation, disrupts the balance of the gases in our body and further prolongs the feeling of anxiety. It may trigger a panic attack by making physical symptoms of anxiety worse – we feel dizzy, tired and week and we start sweating. In addition, we may feel nauseous, have skin sensations like prickling and experience legs and arms numbness. Furthermore, we may feel overwhelmed with a fear that we are going to faint, or that something terrible is going to happen.