By Jason Prior
People often think about building emotional resilience, to help with issues such as anxiety and depression, as primarily requiring us to develop better ways of thinking. While this is one important pillar (of emotional resilience), there are others required to build a strong foundation, such as our mental energy reserves. When this is high, we can tolerate more of life’s stressors and feel better able to cope. This mental energy reserve can be built not only through good nutrition, hydration and adequate sleep, but also through proper breathing technique.
Breathing is something all people do automatically, so it may seem silly to think of it as something that we need to do, or could benefit from training. Most people are, however, chest focused breathers, which can lead to an increased heart rate and greater feelings of physical tension and anxiety. In contrast diaphragmatic (or abdominal) focused breathing can slow our heart rate, reduce feelings of tension, and enhance our sense of wellbeing, focus and ability to cope with the tasks at hand.
Effective diaphragmatic breathing involves breathing in through the nose, typically for a count of 4 seconds and out through mouth for 8 seconds, continuously in a relaxed and comfortable position for at least a few minutes.
While this 4/8 breathing cycle may initially be hard for some people, the key is to breath out for twice as long as you breath in and hold for 2 seconds in between. Starting with as little as breathing in for 2 seconds and out for 4 seconds can be helpful. This strongly activates our vagus nerve, known to have positive effects on both our levels of depression and anxiety.
As a competitive free diver, breath training has been essential in helping me hold my breath for over 6 minutes and swim underwater for 150 metres. While not everyone will be excited by the prospect of doing this, performing proper breathing technique and learning to relax my body has also helped improve my day to day ability to deal with the pressures of running a business and meeting the needs of my family.
The long term effects of holding too much body tension may increase the risks of physical injuries, pain, tiredness and fatigue, all of which can reduce our emotional resilience. By taking better care of our bodies through proper breathing we are better able to increase our energy reserves, strengthen our minds and continue to build up the foundations of our emotional resilience.