Leading Neuropsychologist Dr Elisabeth Honinx from health tech start up Moonbird, explains how breathing techniques can help to relieve some of the tension and anxiety we may feel during this challenging period.
Breathing through the financial crisisAnxiety manifests itself in a number of physical and mental symptoms that are different for every person, such as an increased heart rate, muscle tension or restlessness, but accelerated, shallow breathing is the most common.
This type of breathing is called thoracic or chest breathing and it causes a fluctuation of the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the body, which causes a stress response. This in turn increases the feelings of anxiety and panic attacks, creating a vicious cycle.
It can be easy to become trapped in this anxiety cycle, especially when we are worried about our finances, so it’s important to get control of your breathing to break the cycle and help relieve some of the tension you are feeling.
How does breathing help?When we breathe slowly, we activate the parasympathetic part of our autonomic nervous system – this is responsible for regulating the heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and digestion. By breathing slowly, you become calmer and less anxious, helping to break the cycle of anxiety and helping you think clearer about your situation.
In fact, someone who does breathing exercises three times a day for at least three consecutive days can reduce their anxiety by as much as 20 per cent, research shows.
Slow, diaphragmatic breathing – also known as abdominal or belly breathing – stimulates the parasympathetic system and helps to restore normal breathing patterns and reduce anxiety.
While the current financial crisis may seem uncontrollable, according to Pharmaceutical Scientist and
Co-Founder of Moonbird Stefanie Broes, we have the power to shape how we react to it just by breathing.
"Breathing is the only part of the autonomic nervous system that not only functions on its own but can be consciously controlled," she says. "As a result, we have more control over how we experience the world and our own feelings than we think.”
How to practise diaphragmatic breathing
Find a comfortable positionEither sit on a straight-back chair with both of your feet on the floor or lie on your back on a flat surface such as your bed. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your abdomen just below your ribcage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm expanding.
Feel your breathBreathe in slowly through your nose while counting to four, pushing your stomach out. The hand on your stomach should move, but the one on your chest should stay still. Hold your breath for one second
Tighten your coreSlowly exhale while counting to four. While doing this tighten your stomach muscles, also known as your core - this will cause your hand to slowly lower. The hand on your chest should remain still.
RepeatRepeat this process for five-10 minutes every day, especially when you feel anxious or in need of relaxation.
It’s natural to feel your mind wandering as you practise – if you feel this happening, gently guide your focus back to your body, paying close attention to the movements of your body. Dr Honinx explains that many people find it difficult to practise breathing exercises unassisted, especially when struggling with high levels of anxiety.
External guidance from breathing tools like Moonbird can help with focus – helping you to destress and bring your mind back to your breathing when you can’t stop it from wandering.