When you’re feeling stressed and everything seems overwhelming, it’s easy to spiral out of control quickly. Your heart rate increases, stress levels skyrocket, and you’re nearing ever closer to a panic attack. Anxiety and overwhelm are NOT kind!
The problem with stress is that it’s caused by so many factors. Your stress levels can be influenced by issues in your personal life or relationships. Alternatively, work could be causing lots of stress and anxiety in your body. Whatever the reasons, you feel in a constant state of alertness. It’s like you’re always on edge, just moments away from tipping over.
As a consequence, it’s crucial to look after your stress levels, keeping them as low as possible. If you look online for stress-busting tips, all sorts of things will come up on your screen, possibly causing even MORE overwhelm — not to mention confusion over what to believe. People recommend taking supplements or drinking certain teas. While they might help some, the chances of them actually working are very slim.
Instead, there’s one singular stress-busting solution you should focus on, solely: deep breathing.
Why? Because deep breathing will help you to lower your heart rate, taking it from high beats per minute (bpm) to closer to your “resting” heart rate. We’ll talk about why that’s important in just a moment, and throughout the rest of this post, you’ll find some tips on how to practice deep breathing to help you feel less stressed instantly.
Why Lowering Your Heart Rate Matters
Aside from the obvious health benefits of a lower heart rate – such as a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases – it has huge advantages for your stress levels.
You see when your heart rate is elevated, the body enters its fight or flight mode. This is a psychological response we’ve had from the moment we were born. All humans have it, and it stems from our days as cavemen – or even further back than that – when we were prey as well as predator. It’s a very primitive response that is stored in the reptilian part of your brain, also know as the basal ganglia, where the automatic, self-preserving behaviors are stored.
The heart starts beating faster and it makes the body produce hormones like adrenaline and/or cortisol. These hormones will cause stress throughout your body, but the idea is that they help you deal with perceived threats. Way back when, an adrenaline boost could help a human fight off a predator or escape from a threat. You still get this today – if you’re ever in a tense situation where there’s a clear threat, your heart rate increases and your body goes into this mode. It aids in assisting with pain from injuries, and speed/agility for getting away from the perceived threat.
Unfortunately, if you’re constantly stressed, your body is always activating the “fight or flight” response. If you continually have too many stress hormones in your system, which can lead to prolonged periods of feeling uptight and on edge. Lowering your heart rate directly counters this. It deactivates the “fight or flight” response and activates the body’s relaxation response.
This is where the body stops producing things like adrenaline and cortisol and produces more relaxing hormones instead. You start turning on the parasympathetic nervous system, which is part of your CNS and promotes relaxation and recovery. So, when people tell you to take deep breaths, there are genuine scientific reasons behind this. It’s all about tricking your body and getting it to relax.
How to lower your heart rate through deep breathing
A few key things need to be done to lower your heart rate with deep breathing exercises:
- Get comfortable
- Take long deep breaths
- Feel yourself relax
To start, create a comfortable and relaxing environment around you. Brands like Ungloo sell really interesting chairs or things you can sit on that put your body in a more relaxed position. It’s all about supporting your muscles so you’re not tensing them – this promotes a way more relaxed state.
When you’re comfy, begin taking long deep breaths. Aim for three seconds in and three seconds out. This is the opposite of hyperventilating. When you hyperventilate, you take rapid short breaths that signal to your brain a threat is near. As a result, it goes into the “fight or flight” mode, and your heart rate increases dramatically, by your blood pressure raising. Slower, controlled, breathing will tell your brain that everything is okay and it’s time to slow down and relax.
At the same time, try to think about letting your body relax and loosen. Let go of muscle tension and feel the waves of stress disappear. One good trick is to close your eyes and almost imagine yourself melting with every breath. It sounds weird, but it helps you relax your muscles and feel less stressed! Breath in through your nose, blowing it out with your mouth, slowly as you can focus and control.
You can add other stress-busting ideas to your routine if you wish, but this is the only thing you need. It directly deals with the body’s response to stress, encouraging you to feel more relaxed. After 5-10 minutes of deep breathing, your heart rate will decrease and you will physically be less stressed.