Potentially one of the most annoying things somebody can say to you when you’re in a panic is “breathe.” I applaud you if you don’t get the intense urge to say shut up to anybody who offers this advice. But I’m afraid that in this blog, breathing is exactly what I’m going to tell you to do. Hear me out before telling me to shut up.
Here’s how (according to science) long slow deep breaths have the ability to calm you down:
If you didn’t already know, we have 2 types of nervous system:
1) The sympathetic nervous system which prepares the body for intense physical activity and is often referred to as the fight-or-flight response. For anorexia sufferers, this is the part of our brain that is activated when we feel stress, for example when your mum puts a chocolate sponge pudding in front of you after dinner. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) releases the hormones (catecholamines – epinephrine and norepinephrine) to accelerate the heart rate during periods of stress or excitement. This is why when facing a fear food, you might actually become sweaty and feel your heart racing. If we think of ourselves as cave-men, this actually makes a lot of sense. Imagine a dangerous animal is lurking outside your cave. The stress from this lurking predator means we must prepare for a ‘flight or fight’ reaction. We either run from it or head out and try to take on the danger. In the past, this would have been both useful and essential to not only handle danger, but to get food for ourselves. If we saw a big herd of buffalo wonder by and we completely relaxed and chilled, the likelihood is we wouldn’t catch one. Our heart rate wouldn’t be raised and we wouldn’t be mentally and physically prepared to act.
Side note: Your SNS can also be activated if you drink too much caffeine too. So if you recognise becoming stressed after caffine, try to ween down on it.
2) The parasympathetic nervous system has almost the exact opposite effect and relaxes the body and inhibits or slows many high energy functions. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) releases the hormone acetylcholine to slow the heart rate. Science shows that taking slow, deep breaths helps to slow your heart rate by activate the parasympathetic nervous system and so releasing the hormone. We don’t feel this fight or flight response anymore and therefore it is actually a lot easier to keep calm.
This can actually be really useful (and a technique I use) when facing fear foods. If you begin to panic mid meal. Put your fork down, and take a really long breath in. Feel yourself relax and calm. It will stop that overwhelming fight of flight response of either running from the table or throwing your plate across the room. So next time you’re in a fluster or feel yourself beginning to panic, take some slow, long deep breaths. We can actually voluntarily switch between our nervous systems which, if you think about it, is pretty cool and an example of how amazing our bodies are.
Always Keep Fighting,
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