Stress has long been known to increase the risk of illness and disease, including depression, heart disease and infectious diseases, but it wasn’t always clear as to exactly how it influenced one’s immune system. A 2012 study out of Carnegie Mellon University revealed chronic psychological stress is linked to the loss of the body’s ability to regulate its inflammatory response. The research results showed this can promote the development and progression of disease.
Reducing the effects of stress by evoking the relaxation response can help protect against all types of mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression, as well as physical conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and some types of cancer.
Controlling the effects of stress through better breathing
While it’s impossible to remove all stress out of your life, it is possible to control its effects. Researchers from the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center say mind-body exercises such as meditation, including focused breathing and deep-breathing techniques, can help trigger the body’s natural relaxation response and counter the detrimental effects of stress by altering the expression of genes in the immune system.
Breathing is an unusual function in the body, in that it is both voluntary and involuntary. Most of us take it for granted, like we do our heartbeat or blood flow, but we can consciously change the way we breathe, positively impacting our overall health and well-being. During times of stress, most people take breaths that are quick and shallow, which doesn’t provide the body with enough oxygen it needs to function well. Decreased oxygen can lead to dizziness, light-headedness and fatigue.
The many benefits of focused breathing
Spending several minutes practicing deep-breathing exercises every day can almost immediately change a bad mood into a good one, as well as provide health benefits in the future. Plus, it’s one of the easiest things you can do to improve your well-being. All it involves is inhaling deeply, and then exhaling deeply, with the breath coming from the abdomen rather then the chest.
In addition to being a powerful tool to manage stress, just a few of the numerous benefits of practicing focused breathing include:
- Lowering blood pressure and heart rate
- Managing anxiety
- Increasing brain size
- Alleviating negative emotions
- Strengthening the immune system
- Improving concentration
- Boosting self-confidence
Recognizable names who recommend focused-breathing for stress reduction
Many major corporations today are recommending and even offering courses in meditation, which includes focused breathing, in order to help their employees thrive in today’s stressful business world. Google has on-site facilities for staff to take meditation breaks. General Mills and Merck are also exploring its benefits, including sustained attention span and enhanced multi-tasking abilities, which can help make workers more productive. Even big-name insurance brands such as State Farm advocate breathing techniques for stress reduction to help their members enjoy a longer, more productive life.
The immediate positive results of deep-breathing exercises and meditation have also attracted celebrities, such as comedian Jerry Seinfeld, singer Sheryl Crow and even talk show host Oprah Winfrey, who reportedly paid for her entire staff to undergo meditation training.
One of the most famous doctors in the U.S., Dr. Oz, believes meditation should be a part of everyone’s daily routine. He has often spoken about its great mental and physical benefits in his own life.