When we are anxious, stressed, angry, or activated in any way, our friends, therapists,
or others around us often say things like, “Breathe,” or, “Take a deep breath.” Especially with no psychoeducation on the benefits of breathing, breathing exercises can seem pointless at first because we breathe all day! Unfortunately, our loved ones are right, and deep breaths do come with a swath of benefits. I took a look at a research article about diaphragmatic breathing, which discusses a few of those benefits.
Before I dive in, let’s discuss diaphragmatic breathing. Breathing, by function, is
impossible without the diaphragm, so it’s a bit of a misnomer. What clinicians mean by
“diaphragmatic breathing” is taking deep, slow breaths which inflate the stomach, fully utilizing the range of the diaphragm. When we are stressed, scared, or anxious, we are likely only breathing shallow breaths and inflating our chest, not our stomach, and breathing between 10 and 20 breaths a minute. In diaphragmatic breathing, or slow breathing, we aim to breath somewhere between 4 and 10 breaths a minute (Russo, 2017).
In Ma et al.’s 2017 study of diaphragmatic breathing, they looked at a group who didn’t
use diaphragmatic breathing, and a group who used diaphragmatic breathing to slow their
breath down to 4 breaths per minute. They saw the following effects in the diaphragmatic
- Significant decrease in negative affect (unpleasant emotions) after breathing
- Significantly lower cortisol levels (stress hormone) after breathing intervention
- Significantly sustained attention after breathing intervention (Ma et al., 2017).
TLDR: diaphragmatic breathing alleviates negative mood symptoms, lowers our stress
hormones, and improves attention (Ma et al., 2017). These effects are great, and I like to keep them on hand because they’re easy to remember: if you’re stressed, experiencing unpleasant emotions, or struggling with attention, the research says deep, slow breathing helps. These are just a handful of the benefits, and we’ll likely see more as western research catches up with this traditional eastern practice (Russo, 2017).
Jacob Lundy is a Mental Health Student Intern at Cypress Wellness Center. He began pursuing a Bachelor's in Psychology from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and deeply fell in love with therapy when he finally went to therapy himself in his senior year. He has ten years of teaching experience including music, special education, and ESL. He also has three years of experience working as a personal service worker, showing comfort to autistic individuals. He's now pursuing a Master's in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Adams State University. To request an appointment, click here to request an appointment.
Ma, X., Yue, Z.-Q., Gong, Z.-Q., Zhang, H., Duan, N.-Y., Shi, Y.-T., Wei, G.-X., & Li, Y.-F.
(2017). The effect of diaphragmatic breathing on attention, negative affect and stress in
healthy adults. Frontiers in Psychology, 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874
Russo, M. A., Santarelli, D. M., & O’Rourke, D. (2017). The physiological effects of slow
breathing in the healthy human. Breathe, 13(4), 298–309.