Stress and anxiety are running high these days with all of the precautions and uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, as ever, it is important to find ways to calm your mind and body to help manage these symptoms. Diaphragmatic breathing is a great, simple way to do this.
Our body is designed to breathe using primarily our diaphragm. The diaphragm is a muscle that sits at the bottom of the ribcage. When we breathe in, the diaphragm contracts downward, which causes the abdominal contents to be pushed together and the belly to expand slightly. This is sometimes referred to as “belly breathing.” When we are experiencing stress, we often recruit our accessory breathing muscles like those in our chest wall and shoulders, which cause the expansion to occur in our chest rather than our belly. This can cause overworking of these accessory muscles, increasing muscle tone, and sometimes even leading to pain and tightness that can create other problems. Taking time each day to practice diaphragmatic breathing can reset our system, reduce tension in our accessory muscles, improve oxygen delivery to the areas of the body that need it, and improve our overall mood and ability to cope with stressful times.
Lie on your back or sit in a comfortable position with good posture. Place your hands on your lower ribs and stomach, or alternatively place one hand on your chest and one on your stomach as in the picture.
As you breathe in, think about expanding your lower ribs and stomach, pushing your hand(s) away from your belly with the breath as it enters your trunk. As you breathe out, gently let your belly and ribs relax, and your hand(s) move with them. Try to increase the duration of your inhale and exhale to 5 or more seconds each, keeping them even or allowing your exhale to last just a little bit longer than your inhale. Focus your attention on your breath and the movement in your belly caused by your breath.
Repeat 10 times. You can increase the number of times in a row you perform this as you get more comfortable with it. If you feel lightheaded then stop.
Practicing diaphragmatic breathing every day, even a couple of times per day, can help improve your overall mental and physical health and assist you in coping with these challenging and unpredictable times. Take a few minutes today to get started!
If you have questions about this or other physical aches and pains, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us for a free telehealth or in-person consultation with one of our physical therapists!
Call to make an appointment at our Milwaukee (414) 224-8219 or Pewaukee (262) 695-3057 location, or email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have additional questions or concerns about your mental health during these times, please reach out to your doctor for more information regarding mental health services that may be helpful to you!
(This article was authored by one of our expert physical therapists, Elizabeth Melville PT, DPT. You can schedule with her by calling one of the two phone numbers above or email us at email@example.com)