“If you feel nervous, just take a few deep breaths. In, then out. In, then out.”
This feels like obvious advice. Everyone knows that slow, deep breathing can calm the heart rate and lower feelings of anxiety.
But 9 out of 10 people do what Belisa Vranich calls an ‘anatomically incongruous’ (read: bad) way of breathing. They breathe ‘vertically’, raising their ribs and shoulders as they breathe. This vertical method actually has the opposite effect: it raises the heart rate, and decreases oxygen retention. It sends ‘danger’ signals through the Vagus nerve, putting you in a ‘fight or flight’ mode.
This means that when you tell most people to ‘take a deep breath’, you’re asking them to do an exaggerated version of a damaging in-breath. That means that ‘take a deep breath’ is not exactly optimal advice.
We all have a bit of air in our lungs all the time (called the Resting Expiratory Level, or REL), so breathing out first is no issue. When they’ve breathed out to the max, allow them to relax. Their belly will inflate, dropping air into the deeper, more oxygen-rich parts of the lungs. It again stimulates the Vagus nerve, putting us in ‘rest and digest’ instead of ‘fight or flight’.
They teach this breathing method to boxers, golfers, singers, public speakers – anyone who needs to calm down under pressure. Redditors deserve it too.
So the next time you feel anxious, don’t think ‘breathe in’. Breathe out first.